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Title: Charles Lamb

Author: Walter Jerrold

Release Date: March 13, 2006 [EBook #17977]

Language: English

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         [Illustration: CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF FIFTY-ONE.
                           BY HENRY MEYER.
From the original painting at the India Office, reproduced by permission
           of the Secretary of State for India in Council.]


               Bell's Miniature Series of Great Writers


                             CHARLES LAMB


                                  BY

                            WALTER JERROLD




                                LONDON
                          GEORGE BELL & SONS
                                 1905




TABLE OF CONTENTS


THE STORY OF HIS LIFE

HIS PRINCIPAL WRITINGS:

  Poetry
  The Drama
  Stories
  Verses
  Criticism
  Essays
  Letters

THE ESSAYS OF ELIA

HIS STYLE

CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF WORKS

POSTHUMOUS WORKS AND COLLECTED EDITION

BIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF 51.
     _By Henry Meyer_                    _Frontispiece_

CHRIST'S HOSPITAL

THE DINING HALL, CHRIST'S HOSPITAL

SKETCH OF CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF 44
     _By G. F. Joseph, A.R.A._

HOLOGRAPH LETTER TO JOHN CLARE THE
     PEASANT POET, 31 August, 1822




CHARLES LAMB

THE STORY OF HIS LIFE


Charles Lamb's biography should be read at length in his essays and
his letters--from them we get to know not only the facts of his life
but almost insensibly we get a knowledge of the man himself such as
cannot be conveyed in any brief summary. He is as a friend, a loved
friend, whom it seems almost sacrilegious to summarize in the compact
sentences of a biographical dictionary, of whom it would be a wrong to
write if the writing were to be used instead of, rather than as an
introduction to, a literary self-portrait, more striking it may be
believed than any of the canvases in the Uffizi Gallery. When he was
six-and-twenty Charles Lamb wrote thus in reply to an invitation from
Wordsworth to visit him in Cumberland:

     I have passed all my days in London ... the lighted shops of
     the Strand and Fleet Street; the innumerable trades,
     tradesmen and customers, coaches, waggons, playhouses; all
     the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden; the
     very women of the town; the watchmen, drunken scenes,
     rattles; life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the
     night; the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street; the
     crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon houses
     and pavements, the print shops, the old bookstalls, parsons
     cheapening books, coffee houses, steams of soups from
     kitchens, the pantomimes--London itself a pantomime and a
     masquerade--all these things work themselves into my mind,
     and feed me, without a power of satiating me. The wonder of
     these sights impels me into night walks about her crowded
     streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from
     fulness of joy at so much life. All these emotions must be
     strange to you; so are your rural emotions to me. But
     consider, what must I have been doing all my life, not to
     have lent great portions of my heart with usury to such
     scenes?

In whimsical exaggeration Lamb sometimes wrote of his aversion from
country sights and sounds, adopting that method partly perhaps for the
purpose of rallying his correspondents, and partly for the purpose of
accentuating his own "unrural notions." He was a Londoner of
Londoners. In London he was born and educated, and in London--with a
few of his later years in what is now but an outer suburb--he passed
the fifty-nine years of his life. Beyond some childish holidays in
pleasant Hertfordshire, a few brief trips into the country--to
Coleridge at Stowey and at Keswick, to Oxford and Cambridge, and one
short journey to Paris--he had no personal contact with the outer
world. He delighted in his devotion to London, and stands pre-eminent
as the Londoner in literature.

Charles Lamb was the son of John Lamb, who had left his native
Lincolnshire--probably from the neighbourhood of Stamford--as a child,
and who finally found himself attached to one Samuel Salt, a Bencher
of the Inner Temple, in the capacity of "his clerk, his good servant,
his dresser, his friend, his 'flapper,' his guide, stop-watch,
auditor, treasurer." Salt's chambers were at 2, Crown Office Row, and
there John Lamb lived with a family consisting of himself, his wife,
an unmarried sister, Sarah Lamb ("Aunt Hetty"), a son John, aged
twelve, and a daughter Mary, aged eleven, when on 10th February, 1775,
there was born to him another son to whom was given the now familiar
name. Seven children had been born from 1762 to 1775, but of them all
these three alone survived. The father and his employer are sketched,
unforgetably, in Lamb's essay on "The Old Benchers of the Inner
Temple," Salt, under his own name, and Lamb under that of Lovel: "I
knew this Lovel. He was a man of an incorrigible and losing honesty. A
good fellow withal and 'would strike.' In the cause of the oppressed
he never considered inequalities, or calculated the number of his
opponents." The whole passage must be read in the essay itself. From
his father Charles Lamb inherited at once his literary leanings and
his humour, both heightened to an incalculable degree. We have Elia's
word for it that John Lamb the elder "was the liveliest little fellow
breathing" with a face as gay as Garrick's, and we know further that
he published a small volume of simple verse. From the father, too,
the family derived a heavier inheritance, which was to cast its shadow
over their lives from the day of Charles's early manhood to the day
half a century later, when his sister Mary, the last survivor of the
family circle, was laid to rest.

Lamb's mother, Elizabeth Field, is--for obvious reasons--the only
member of the immediate family circle whom we do not meet in his
writings. His maternal grandmother--the grandame who is to be met in
his verses and in some of his essays--was for over half a century
housekeeper at Blakesware in Hertfordshire, and with her, as a small
boy, Charles spent pleasant holidays.

Little Charles Lamb was sent for a time to "a humble day-school, at
which reading and writing were taught to us boys in the morning, and
the same slender erudition was communicated to the girls, our sisters,
etc., in the evening." In a letter to Coleridge (5th July, 1796) we
have a hint that Lamb may have had yet earlier teaching in an infant
school in the Temple for he writes: "Mr. Chambers lived in the Temple;
Mrs. Reynolds, his daughter, was my schoolmistress"; though it may be
that the lady referred to was employed in Mr. Bird's school. This
school, kept by William Bird "in the passage leading from Fetter Lane
into Bartlett's Buildings," was the one to which Mary Lamb appears to
have owed her regular training; but Samuel Salt had a goodly
collection of old books in his chambers, and among these the brother
and sister browsed most profitably, to use his own expressive word,
acquiring an early liking for good literature and learning to take
their best recreation in things of the mind. But if from the "school
room looking into a discoloured dingy garden" Mary Lamb was presumed
to be able to acquire a sufficiency of knowledge, it was seen that her
younger brother needed something more than Mr. Bird could give to fit
him for a life in which he would have to take an early place as
bread-winner. John Lamb's friendly employer--whom lovers of Lamb can
never recall but to honour--secured a nomination for the boy to
Christ's Hospital, and thither in his eighth year the little fellow
was transferred from the home in the Temple.

Should a zealous compiler seek to arrange an autobiography of Charles
Lamb from his writings he would not have a difficult task, and he
would find two delightful essays devoted to the famous school--so long
the distinguishing feature of Newgate Street--where "blue-coat boys"
passed the most importantly formative period of their lives.
Handicapped somewhat by a stuttering speech Charles Lamb did not
perhaps join in all the boyish sports of his fellows, though there are
many testimonies to the regard in which he was held by his
school-mates, and the fact is stressed that though the only one of his
surname at Christ's Hospital, he was never "Lamb" but always "Charles
Lamb," as though there were something of an endearment in the constant
use of his Christian name. "The Christ's Hospital or Blue-coat boy,
has a distinctive character of his own, as far removed from the abject
qualities of a common charity-boy as it is from the disgusting
forwardness of a lad brought up at some other of the public schools."
In the essay from which this is quoted, Charles Lamb, looking back a
quarter of a century after leaving the old foundation, summed up the
characteristics of his school as reflected in the character of its
boys of whom he and the close friend he made there are the two whose
names are the most commonly on the lips of men. It is, indeed, worthy
of remark that from amid the countless boys educated at Christ's
Hospital since it was founded three centuries and a half ago by "the
flower of the Tudor name ... boy patron of boys," the names that stand
out most prominently are those of the two who were at the school
together--Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was at that old
"Hospital," recently, alas, demolished, that these men, so different
in genius, so similar in many of their intellectual tastes, began a
memorable friendship that was only to be broken by death more than
half a century later.

A schoolfellow's description of him may help us to visualize the
elusive figure of which we have no early portraits, and the later
portraits of which are understood to be wanting in one regard or
another. His countenance, says this early observer, was mild; his
complexion clear brown, with an expression that might lead you to
think that he was of Jewish descent. His eyes were not each of the
same colour: one was hazel, the other had specks of grey in the iris,
mingled as we see red spots in the bloodstone. His step was
plantigrade, which made his walk slow and peculiar, adding to the
staid appearance of his figure.

[Illustration: CHRIST'S HOSPITAL.]

For seven years--from October 1782 until November 1789--Charles Lamb
remained at Christ's Hospital, and then, close upon fifteen years of
age, returned to his parents in the Temple. His brother John had
obtained an appointment in the South Sea House, probably through the
kindly offices of Samuel Salt, who was a Deputy-Governor, and at some
unascertained date between 1789 and 1792, Charles found employment in
the same office; not, however, for long, for in April of 1792 he was
appointed clerk in the accountant's office of the East India House, at
a commencing salary of £70 per annum. This same year which thus saw
the founding of Charles Lamb's humble fortunes, saw also the beginning
of the break-up of his home, for the immortal old Bencher, Samuel
Salt, died, and the Lamb family was left without its mainstay. John
Lamb the elder was past work, already, we may believe, passing into
senility; and John Lamb the younger, who appears to have been
prospering in the South Sea House, had presumably set up his bachelor
home elsewhere. Salt bequeathed to his clerk and factotum a pension of
£10 a year, and various legacies amounting to about £700. The old
home in the Temple had to be given up, but whither the family first
removed is not known. Four years later they were living in Little
Queen Street--now a portion of Kingsway--off Holborn, in a house on
the west side, the site of which is now covered by a church.

At the end of 1794--though his first known verses are dated five years
earlier--Charles Lamb had, so far as we are aware, the pleasure of
seeing himself for the first time "in print," and curiously enough
here at the earliest beginning of his life as author he was intimately
associated with Coleridge; indeed, his "effusion," a sonnet addressed
to Mrs. Siddons, appeared in "The Morning Chronicle" on 29th December,
with the signature "S. T. C." Coleridge, we learn from Lamb's letters,
altered the sonnet and was welcome to do so, and the poem properly
appears in both of their collected works; the recension is certainly
not an improvement on the original. In the spring of 1796 a small
volume of Coleridge's poems was published, four sonnets by Lamb being
included in it; and in May, 1796, was written the earliest of the rich
collection of Lamb's letters which have come down to us. In this
letter we have the first mention of the shadow which overhung the Lamb
family.

     My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks
     that finished last year and began this, your very humble
     servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse at Hoxton. I am
     got somewhat rational now, and don't bite any one. But mad I
     was; and many a vagary my imagination played with me,
     enough to make a volume, if all were told.... Coleridge, it
     may convince you of my regard for you when I tell you my
     head ran on you in my madness as much almost as on another
     person, who I am inclined to think was the more immediate
     cause of my temporary frenzy.

It is assumed that the closing reference here is to Lamb's romantic
love for A---- W----; the "Anna" of some of his sonnets written about
this time, the "Alice W----" of the later "Dream Children," and other
of the essays, and that it was to the unhappy course of a deep love
that Charles Lamb owed his brief period of mental aberration. This
year, 1796, which was to close in tragic gloom, was indeed marked
almost throughout by unhappiness, lightened only by the close and
friendly correspondence with Coleridge. From these letters we learn
that besides his own mental trouble, his sister had been very ill, his
brother was laid up and demanded constant attention, having a leg so
bad that for a time the necessity of amputation appeared to be
probable.[1] Through it all Charles Lamb was conscious of being "sore
galled with disappointed hope," and felt something of enforced
loneliness, consequent upon his being, as he described himself, "slow
of speech and reserved of manners"; he went nowhere, as he put it,
had no acquaintance, and but one friend--Coleridge. It is difficult,
in reading much in these letters, to realize that the writer was but
just come of age in the previous February. The first twenty or so of
the letters of Lamb which have come down to us are addressed to
Coleridge (1796-1798). Between the seventh of the series (5th July,
1796) and the eighth (27th September, 1796) there is a gap of time at
the close of which happened the tragedy that coloured the whole of
Charles Lamb's subsequent life and caused him to give himself up to a
life of devotion to which it would not be easy to find a parallel.

[Footnote 1: It is curious that a quarter of a century later, when
writing of his brother in "Dream Children," Lamb speaks of his being
lame-footed, and of having his limb actually taken off.]

The story is best told in the poignant simplicity of Lamb's first
letter to Coleridge after the calamity:

     MY DEAREST FRIEND,

     White, or some of my friends, or the public papers, by this
     time may have informed you of the terrible calamities that
     have fallen on our family. I will only give you the
     outlines: My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of
     insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at
     hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp.
     She is at present in a madhouse, from whence I hear she must
     be moved to an hospital. God has preserved to me my senses,
     I eat and drink and sleep, and have my judgment, I believe,
     very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am
     left to take care of him and my aunt. Mr. Norris of the
     Blue-Coat School, has been very kind to us, and we have no
     other friends; but, thank God, I am very calm and composed,
     and able to do the best that remains to do. Write as
     religious a letter as possible, but no mention of what is
     gone and done with. With me "the former things are passed
     away," and I have something more to do than to feel.

     God Almighty have us all in His keeping!

     C. LAMB.

     Mention nothing of poetry, I have destroyed every vestige of
     past vanities of that kind. Do as you please, but if you
     publish, publish mine (I give free leave) without name or
     initial, and never send me a book, I charge you.

     Your own judgment will convince you not to take any notice
     of this yet to your dear wife. You look after your family; I
     have my reason and strength left to take care of mine, I
     charge you, don't think of coming to see me. Write. I will
     not see you if you come. God Almighty love you and all of
     us!

     C. LAMB.

At the inquest the only possible verdict was returned, that of
homicide during temporary insanity, against the young woman who, in
her frenzy, had killed her own mother and destroyed a home which she
had been working hard, as a mantua maker, to help support. The awful
shock had, perhaps, a steadying effect on Charles Lamb. Here he was at
the age of one-and-twenty suddenly placed in a position that might
have tried a strong-minded man in his prime; his brother, a dozen
years his senior, so far as we are aware mixed himself as little as
might be with the family tragedy; poor Mary had to be placed in an
asylum and supported there, and a pledge taken for her future
safe-guarding, while in the home a physically feeble old aunt and a
mentally feeble old father had to be looked after and companioned.
Humbly and unhesitatingly he who was but little more than a youth in
years took up a task which it is painful even to contemplate; the
simple spirit in which he did so may be realized from a noble letter
which he sent to his friend at the time. The shattered family removed
from Little Queen Street to 45, Chapel Street, Pentonville, and there
in the following year Aunt Hetty died. In the spring of 1799 old John
Lamb also passed away, and Mary returned to share her brother's home,
to be tended always with loving solicitude, though ever and again she
had to be removed during recurring attacks of her mental malady. In
this brief summary of the story of Charles Lamb's life it is not
necessary to keep referring to this fact, though it should be borne in
mind that from time to time throughout their lives, Mary, affected now
by solitariness and now by the over-excitement of seeing many friends,
had to be placed under restraint for periods varying from a few weeks
to several months. In this spring of 1799, too, with Mary's return to
share her brother's life, began a new trouble. They were, as Lamb put
it, "in a manner marked," and had frequently to change their lodgings
until they were once more domiciled in the sanctuary of the Temple,
where they had been born and where they had passed their childhood and
youth.

[Illustration: CHRIST'S HOSPITAL: THE DINING HALL.]

In the first feeling of his horror after his mother's death, and with
a sense of all the responsibility that had fallen upon his shoulders
Lamb had disclaimed any further interest in literature, had asked
Coleridge not to mention it, not to include his name in a projected
volume. Yet he was to find in reading and in writing--and in the
friendship of those who cared for reading and writing--at once a
solace and a joy in his own life and a passport to the affections of
generations of readers. In 1797 there was published a new edition of
Coleridge's Poems, "to which are now added Poems by Charles Lamb and
Charles Lloyd." In the summer of the same year he spent a week at
Nether Stowey with Coleridge,[2] and in the autumn he and Lloyd passed
a fortnight with Southey in Hampshire. He was consolidating the
friendships which were to bind him ever closer to letters. With
Coleridge, as we have seen, he was on terms of intimacy, and when that
poet went abroad for a while Southey became Lamb's most intimate
correspondent. The keenly sensitive young man later resented being
dubbed "gentle-hearted," and an apparent assumption of lofty
superiority on the part of his friend, stung him to a memorable
retort. We may take the story from one of Lamb's own letters to
Southey:

     Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to the eternal regret of his native
     Devonshire, emigrates to Westphalia: "poor Lamb" (these were
     his last words), if he wants any knowledge, he may apply to
     me. In ordinary cases I thank him. I have an "Encyclopaedia"
     at hand; but on such an occasion as going over to a German
     University, I could not refrain from sending him the
     following proposition to be by him defended or oppugned (or
     both) at Leipsic or Gottingen.

[Footnote 2: Coleridge, disabled by some slight accident, was unable
to accompany his friends on their walks during this visit of the
Lambs, and once when they had left him he wrote the beautiful poem,
"This Lime Tree Bower My Prison," which he "addressed to Charles Lamb,
of the India House, London." In it that friend was referred to in this
passage:

                  Yes! they wander on
    In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
    My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
    And hungered after Nature, many a year,
    In the great City pent, winning thy way
    With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
    And strange calamity!
]

The Theses, as given in the letter to Coleridge, are as follows:

     Theses Quædam Theologicæ.

     First, Whether God loves a lying angel better than a true
     man?

     Second, Whether the Archangel Uriel could affirm an untruth?
     and if he could, whether he would?

     Third, Whether honesty be an angelic virtue, or not rather
     to be reckoned among those qualities which the school men
     term _virtutes minus splendidæ_?

     Fourth, Whether the higher order of Seraphim illuminati ever
     sneer?

     Fifth, Whether pure intelligences can love?

     Sixth, Whether the Seraphim ardentes do not manifest their
     virtues by the way of vision and theory; and whether
     practice be not a sub-celestial and merely human virtue?

     Seventh, Whether the vision beatific be anything more or
     less than a perpetual re-presentment to each individual angel
     of his own present attainments and future capabilities,
     somehow in the manner of mortal looking-glasses, reflecting
     a perpetual complacency and self-satisfaction?

     Eighth, and last. Whether an immortal and amenable soul may
     not come to be condemned at last, and the man never suspect
     it before hand?

The poet did not reply, and the misunderstanding between the two was
happily not long continued. I have sometimes doubted whether Coleridge
ever knew Lamb so well as Lamb knew Coleridge, though of his affection
for the brother and sister there can be no doubt; of them he wrote at
the end of his life:

    Dear to my heart, yea as it were my heart.

In his "Sidelights on Charles Lamb," too, Mr. Bertram Dobell rescued a
remarkably interesting testimony "minuted down from the lips of
Coleridge," which shows that the poet came to know Lamb better than
when he sent his provocative message:

     Charles Lamb has more totality and individuality of
     character than any other man I know, or have ever known in
     all my life. In most men we distinguish between the
     different powers of their intellect as one being predominant
     over the other. The genius of Wordsworth is greater than his
     talent, though considerable. The talent of Southey is
     greater than his genius, though respectable; and so on. But
     in Charles Lamb it is altogether one; his genius is talent,
     and his talent is genius, and his heart is as whole and one
     as his head. The wild words that come from him sometimes on
     religious subjects would shock you from the mouth of any
     other man, but from him they seem mere flashes of fireworks.
     If an argument seem to his reason not fully true, he bursts
     out in that odd desecrating way; yet his will, the inward
     man, is, I well know, profoundly religious. Watch him, when
     alone, and you will find him with either a Bible or an old
     divine, or an old English poet; in such is his pleasure.

In 1798 was published "A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Poor Blind
Margaret," a story of which Lamb wrote in the following year:
"Rosamund sells well in London, malgré the non-reviewal of it," and in
1798 also, Lloyd and Lamb published a joint volume of "Blank Verse."

It was in the spring of 1801--a pleasant beginning of the new century
for them--that the Lambs, after having had all too frequently to
change their lodgings owing to the "rarity of Christian charity,"
which objected to housing a quiet couple because of their affliction,
at length found pleasant residence in 16, Mitre Court Buildings.
Writing to his friend, Thomas Manning--one of the correspondents with
whom he was ever in the happiest vein--Lamb expatiated upon the moving
very much in the style of his later essays:

     I am going to change my lodgings, having received a hint
     that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I
     have partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look out
     (when you stand a tip-toe) over the Thames and Surrey Hills,
     at the upper end of King's Bench walks in the Temple. There
     I shall have all the privacy of a house without the
     encumbrance, and shall be able to lock my friends out as
     often as I desire to hold free converse with my immortal
     mind; for my present lodgings resemble a minister's levee, I
     have so increased my acquaintance (as they call 'em), since
     I have resided in town. Like the country mouse, that had
     tasted a little of urban manners, I long to be nibbling my
     own cheese by my dear self without mouse-traps and
     time-traps. By my new plan, I shall be as airy, up four pair
     of stairs, as in the country; and in a garden, in the midst
     of enchanting, more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose
     dirtiest, drab-frequented alley, and her lowest-bowing
     tradesman, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn
     James, Walter, and the parson into the bargain. O! her lamps
     of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops,
     mercers, hardwaremen, pastry-cooks! St. Paul's churchyard!
     the Strand! Exeter Change! Charing Cross, with the man
     _upon_ a black horse! These are thy gods, O London! Ain't
     you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam? Had you not
     better come and set up here? You can't think what a
     difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I
     warrant you. At least I know an alchemy that turns her mud
     into that metal,--a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.

Here we have the voice of the best of London-lovers, and here we have
also a hint of the way in which he was finding himself too much
"accompanied"--to use a phrase from one of his unpublished letters. He
frequently chafed against the number of visitors who ate up his day,
and at times had even to resent the way in which an intimate friend
would be over-zealous in entertaining him, when for his own part he
would rather have been alone. One special evening in each week was set
apart for cards and conversation, and those occasions are perhaps
among the best remembered features of early nineteenth-century
literary life. Representative evenings will be found described in
various works.[3] The company was not limited to literary folk, though
many notable men of letters were to be met there, along with humbler
friends, for the Lambs were catholic in their friendships, and had
nothing of the exclusiveness of more pretentious salons. "We play at
whist, eat cold meat and hot potatoes, and any gentleman that chooses
smokes." At these gatherings Mary Lamb moved about observantly looking
after her diverse guests, while Lamb himself, it has been said, might
be depended upon for at once the wisest and the wittiest utterance of
the evening. Here it was that he made his whimsical reproach to a
player with dirty hands: "I say, Martin, if dirt were trumps what a
hand you'd have." And it was on some such occasion, too, that he
retorted on Wordsworth, who had said that the writing of "Hamlet" was
not so very wonderful: "Here's Wordsworth says he could have written
'Hamlet'--_if he had the mind_."

[Footnote 3: In Talfourd's "Memorials" of Lamb; in Hazlitt's essay "Of
Persons One would wish to have Seen."]

In the opening years of the century Lamb contributed epigrams and
paragraphs to "The Albion," "The Morning Chronicle," and "The Morning
Post" (thanks to Coleridge's introduction). His latest contribution to
the first-named journal helped to bring about its sudden demise. One
of the latest which was pointed at Sir James Mackintosh (author of
"Vindicæ Gallicæ") may serve as a specimen of the personal epigram in
which Lamb considered himself happiest:

    Though thou'rt like Judas an apostate black,
    In the resemblance one thing thou dost lack,
    When he had gotten his ill-purchased pelf,
    He went away and wisely hanged himself;
    This thou may'st do at last; yet much I doubt,
    If thou hast any bowels to gush out.

Lamb's position after ten years at the India House had no doubt
considerably improved, but he was glad of the opportunity of making an
additional couple of guineas a week as epigrammatist to "The Morning
Post." He did not, however, continue long at the work; it was too
severe a tax to be ever wondering how this, that, or the other person
or event could be hit off in a few lines of copy, and the irksomeness
he felt, combined with the editorial exactions, caused him to give it
up. In 1802 came a memorable visit by the Lambs to Coleridge at
Keswick, a visit which resulted in Charles Lamb's thinking kindlier of
mountains than he had hitherto done, without in any way lessening his
strong local attachment to the metropolis. Of the day in which he
climbed Skiddaw he said: "It was a day that will stand out, like a
mountain, I am sure, in my life"; a happy simile which would not have
occurred to one who stood, so to speak, on a familiar footing with
mountains.

The life in the Temple was roughly divided into two portions: the
first, at Mitre Court Buildings, extended from the spring of 1801 to
that of 1809; then there seems to have been a brief stay of a few
weeks at 34, Southampton Buildings, Holborn, and at the end of the
following May or beginning of June, the Lambs moved into 4, Inner
Temple Lane, which "looks out upon a gloomy churchyard-like court,
called Hare Court, with thin trees and a pump in it.... I was born
near it, and used to drink at that pump when I was a Rechabite of six
years old." Here Lamb and his sister lived until 1817, continuing in
their pleasant weekly evenings to afford a memorable centre for the
meeting of memorable men. At one of these meetings when it was being
debated, whom it was the different members of the company would like
best to meet from among the notable men of letters of the past, Lamb
promptly fixed upon Sir Thomas Browne and Fulke Greville. How many of
us in such a debate to-day would as promptly name Charles Lamb!

During the first half of these years in the Temple, Charles Lamb had
written much that now endears him to us; but little, it is to be
feared, that made the great body of contemporary readers aware of his
existence. In 1806 he essayed dramatic authorship, had had his farce,
"Mr. H.," performed at Drury Lane, had been present on the occasion of
its solitary appearance when it was incontinently damned, and had
himself taken part in the damnatory hissing. At the beginning of 1807
was published the "Tales from Shakspeare," for which he and his sister
were jointly responsible, and for which they received a sum of sixty
guineas; in 1808 came another book for children in "The Adventures of
Ulysses," and in the same year the "Specimens of English Dramatic
Poets Contemporary with Shakspeare."

During the second half of the stay in the Temple--the years at 4,
Inner Temple Lane, which have been regarded as the happiest portion of
his life--Lamb made but slight advance in literary reputation, but he
was already firmly established in the favour of the few who had been
privileged to know him, to hear his stammered wit, his spoken wisdom.
Though this period from 1809 to 1817 is not marked by the production
of notable books, it was during this time that he contributed to Leigh
Hunt's "Reflector," wrote his "Recollections of Christ's Hospital" for
the "Gentleman's Magazine," and his "Confessions of a Drunkard" for a
friend's publication. Here were most Elia-like precursors of the
famous "Essays."

In the autumn of 1817 the Lambs removed from the Temple in which they
had passed the greater part of their lives, taking rooms over a
brazier's shop at 20, Russell Street, Covent Garden, at the corner of
Bow Street, where, as Mary Lamb put it, they had "Drury Lane Theatre
in sight of our front, and Covent Garden from our back windows."
Covent Garden, as Charles said, "dearer to me than any garden of
Alcinous, where we are morally sure of the earliest peas and
'sparagus." One of the first letters from the new lodgings Lamb
whimsically addressed as from "The Garden of England." The half dozen
years during which he lived here forms from a literary point of view
the most memorable period of Lamb's life. Here he arranged for the
publication of the two precious little volumes of his "Works" which
were issued in the summer of 1818--volumes which he found "admirably
adapted for giving away," having no exaggerated idea of the sensation
which the publication was likely to make. That publication was
arranged, apparently, at the request of the publishers, the brothers
Ollier, whom he now numbered among his friends. Writing to Southey of
the venture he said: "I do not know whether I have done a silly thing
or a wise one, but it is of no great consequence. I run no risk and
care for no censure." Here in Russell Street Lamb continued his
sociable weekly evenings--changed from Wednesdays to Thursdays--here,
indeed, he had to chafe anew at the difficulty of having himself to
himself; he was never C. L., he declared, but always C. L. and Co. He
had, indeed, something of a genius for friendship; however much he
might wish to be alone, he was, there can be little doubt, ever
genial, ever his wise and whimsical self, even when suffering under
the untimely advent of "Mr. Hazlitt, Mr. Martin Burney, or Morgan
Demigorgon"; he had to suffer--or imagine that he suffered--from the
effects of a personal charm of which he was wholly unaware; but if he
had not been so friendlily accessible the world would probably have
lacked record of many of the delightful hints which help towards our
realization of one of the most attractive personalities in our
literary history.

[Illustration: SKETCH OF CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF FORTY-FOUR.
     BY G. F. JOSEPH, A.R.A.
From the original in the Print Room of the British Museum.]

Lamb was already in middle age--in his forty-sixth year--when there
came to him an opportunity of expressing himself in the way best
suited to his genius. Early in 1820 there was started a new periodical
under the simple title of "The London Magazine." Several of Lamb's
friends were among the contributors, and he also was probably invited
to write for it at an early date. His first contribution appeared in
the number for August signed "Elia" (call it "Ellia," said he), the
name having occurred to Lamb's memory as that of a whilom fellow-clerk
of his thirty years earlier at the South Sea House; for several years
he continued his contributions to this remarkable miscellany, finding
in the personal informal essay the most congenial medium for
expressing his mature wisdom, his whimsical humour, his radiant wit.
By the close of 1822 there were essays enough to make a volume, and in
1823, such duly appeared. Even with this Lamb was not to touch
popularity--it may be doubted whether he ever did that in his
lifetime. He was known, admired, loved by a large circle of friends
and acquaintances, but his work made little impression, we may
believe, upon the wider reading public; it was, however, fully
appreciated by those of his contemporaries best able to judge, and
"Elia" came to be recognized as one of the literary mainstays of a
magazine which counted among its contributors, De Quincey, Allan
Cunningham, B. W. Procter, William Hazlitt, Hartley Coleridge, Horace
Smith, and many more writers of note in their day.

Little more than six months after Lamb's first essay signed "Elia" had
appeared in the "London," the editor of that magazine was wounded in a
duel and died, and in the summer of 1821 the periodical changed hands,
but retained its brilliant staff of contributors, and acquired the
services of Thomas Hood, then a young man of two-and-twenty, as a
"sort of sub-editor." The new proprietors gave monthly dinners to
their writers, and here Lamb would meet some of his old friends and
many new. Hood has recorded his first meeting with Elia in the offices
of the magazine, and his account may be quoted, affording as it does
something like a glimpse of Lamb in his habit as he lived at the time
of the full maturity of his powers:

     I was sitting one morning beside our Editor, busily
     correcting proofs, when a visitor was announced, whose name,
     grumbled by a low ventriloquial voice, like Tom Pipes
     calling from the hold through the hatchway, did not resound
     distinctly on my tympanum. However, the door opened, and in
     came a stranger,--a figure remarkable at a glance, with a
     fine head, on a small spare body, supported by two almost
     immaterial legs. He was clothed in sables, of a bygone
     fashion, but there was something wanting, or something
     present about him, that certified he was neither a divine,
     nor a physician, nor a school master: from a certain
     neatness and sobriety in his dress, coupled with his sedate
     bearing, he might have been taken, but that such a costume
     would be anomalous, for a _Quaker_ in black. He looked still
     more like (what he really was) a literary Modern Antique, a
     New-Old Author, a living anachronism, contemporary at once
     with Burton the Elder, and Colman the Younger. Meanwhile he
     advanced with rather a peculiar gait, his walk was
     plantigrade, and with a cheerful "How d'ye do," and one of
     the blandest, sweetest smiles that ever brightened a manly
     countenance, held out two fingers to the Editor. The two
     gentlemen in black soon fell into discourse; and whilst they
     conferred the Lavater principle within me set to work upon
     the interesting specimen thus presented to its speculations.
     It was a striking intellectual face, full of wiry lines,
     physiognomical quips and cranks, that gave it great
     character. There was much earnestness about the brows, and a
     deal of speculation in the eyes, which were brown and
     bright, and "quick in turning"; the nose, a decided one,
     though of no established order; and there was a handsome
     smartness about the mouth. Altogether it was no common
     face--none of those _willow-pattern_ ones, which Nature
     turns out by thousands at her potteries;--but more like a
     chance specimen of the Chinese ware, one to the set--unique,
     antique, quaint. No one who had once seen it, could pretend
     not to know it again. It was no face to lend its
     countenance to any confusion of persons in a Comedy of
     Errors. You might have sworn to it piecemeal,--a separate
     affidavit for every feature. In short his face was as
     original as his figure; his figure as his character; his
     character as his writings; his writings the most original of
     the age. After the literary business had been settled, the
     Editor invited his contributor to dinner, adding "we shall
     have a hare"--

          "And--and--and--and many friends?"

     The hesitation in the speech, and the readiness of the
     allusion were alike characteristic of the individual, who
     his familiars will perchance have recognized already as the
     delightful Essayist, the capital Critic, the pleasant Wit
     and Humorist, the delicate-minded and large-hearted Charles
     Lamb!

This gives us at once something of a glimpse of Lamb as he appeared to
the eyes of his contemporaries, and an indication of the impression
which his genius had made on another man of genius. With his Elia
essays he may be said to have crowned his achievements in the eyes of
those who knew him, and, in fact, his active work, or that part of it
which counts, may be said to have ended with the production of these
essays, which he wrote at first for the "London," and occasionally
later for other periodicals.

In 1823 came another removal. During the summer, or when busy over
some piece of writing, Lamb had stayed a while at Dalston or other
semi-rural place away from the time-wasting friends and fascinations
of town. Thus when it was decided to leave Russell Street the move
was made to semi-suburban quietude and retirement.

     When you come London-ward you will find me no longer in Covt
     Gard. I have a Cottage, in Colebrook row, Islington. A
     cottage, for it is detach'd; a white house, with 6 good
     rooms; the New River (rather elderly by this time) runs (if
     a moderate walking pace can be so termed) close to the foot
     of the house; and behind is a spacious garden, with vines (I
     assure you), pears, strawberries, parsnips, leeks, carrots,
     cabbages, to delight the heart of old Alcinous. You enter
     without passage into a cheerful dining-room, all studded
     over and rough with old Books, and above is a lightsome
     Drawing-room 3 windows, full of choice prints. I feel like a
     great Lord, never having had a house before....

     I heard of you from Mr. Pulham this morning, and that gave a
     fillip to my Laziness, which has been intolerable. But I am
     so taken up with pruning and gardening, quite a new sort of
     occupation to me. I have gather'd my Jargonels, but my
     Windsor Pears are backward. The former were of exquisite
     raciness. I do now sit under my own vine, and contemplate
     the growth of vegetable nature. I can now understand in what
     sense they speak of FATHER ADAM. I recognize the
     paternity, while I watch my tulips.

Were Lamb a matter-of-fact correspondent it might be pointed out that
tulips are not much to watch in September. During the winter of 1824-5
he suffered from ill health, and in April, 1825, he was allowed to
retire from the East India House with a pension of two-thirds of his
salary, less a small sum to assure an annuity for his sister in the
event of his dying first. For thirty-three years had he continued in
his office, and his salary had gradually grown from the modest £70 of
the beginning to ten times that amount at his retirement, so that he
became a superannuated man with an income ample for the modest
requirements of himself and Mary. On the subject of his retirement he
wrote some touching letters to friends such as Wordsworth and Bernard
Barton, and also in his accustomed manner made the crucial event the
subject of a delightful "Elia" essay. He had before expatiated on the
excellent position of the authors who were not "authors for
bread"--men who like himself were employed in business during the day
and had to dally with literature in off hours. Certainly Lamb's "hack
work," the work done for the booksellers during the early part of the
century, was his least memorable achievement, and we cannot help
feeling what a boon it was to Lamb himself and to Letters that he was
chained so long to the desk's dead wood, instead of being dependent on
the favour of the booksellers for his livelihood, and upon the popular
taste of the moment for his themes.

In 1820, during a summer holiday at Cambridge, Lamb met an orphan
girl, Emma Isola, then eleven years of age, whom he and Mary later
adopted, and the letters have many references to the welcome
companionship of Emma, who gave something of a new interest in life to
the brother and sister.[4] In 1827 the household removed again, this
time to the Chase, Enfield. Two years later they gave up the house of
their own and boarded with a Mr. and Mrs. Westwood, their next-door
neighbours. In 1833 Mary, who had had frequently to be "from home," as
it has been euphemistically put, was under the charge of Mr. and Mrs.
Walden at Bay Tree Cottage, Edmonton, when Charles decided to live
under the same roof with her, even during her periods of mental
derangement, and followed her thither, in

    The not unpeaceful evening of a day
    Made black by morning storms.

[Footnote 4: Emma Isola married Edward Moxon, the publisher.]

How much Mary's companionship meant to him may be gathered from an
open-hearted letter which he had written in 1805 to Dorothy
Wordsworth--and it meant no less in the years that followed:

     I have every reason to suppose that this illness, like all
     her former ones, will be but temporary; but I cannot always
     feel so. Meantime she is dead to me and I miss a prop. All
     my strength is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her
     co-operation. I dare not think, lest I should think wrong;
     so used am I to look up to her in the least and the biggest
     perplexity. To say all that I know of her would be more than
     I think anybody could believe, or even understand; and when
     I hope to have her well again with me, it would be sinning
     against her feelings to go about to praise her; for I can
     conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser
     and better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover
     to myself by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would
     share life and death, heaven and hell, with me. She lives
     but for me.

On 25th July, 1834, Coleridge died, and the blow was a terrible one to
Charles Lamb; "we die many deaths before we die," he had said of the
departure of friends; and the passing of Coleridge may be said to have
come as a fatal shock, for he survived him but five months, and during
that time was heard to say again and again, as though the fact were
too stupendous to believe, not to be realized, "Coleridge is dead!"
Taking his usual morning walk in the fourth week of December, Lamb
stumbled and fell, bruising his face; the bruise did not seem serious,
but erysipelas supervened, and on 27th December, 1834, the beloved
friend, the noble man, passed into the great silence. He was buried in
Edmonton Churchyard, and there, nearly thirteen years later, was laid
by him the dear sister who had so long watched over him, whom he had
so long guarded.

       *       *       *       *       *

"'Saint Charles,' said Thackeray to me, thirty years ago, putting one
of Charles Lamb's letters to his forehead."[5]

[Footnote 5: Edward FitzGerald's "Letters."]




HIS PRINCIPAL WRITINGS


The writings of Charles Lamb fall more or less naturally into four or
five groups--with, of course, inevitable overlappings--and it is
better to consider them thus, rather than in the strict order of their
production.


POETRY

It was in poetry that he made his first essays, as we have seen, and
this is not to be wondered at in one who had early read the old poetic
treasures of our literature, and in the close companion of so deeply
poetic a man as Coleridge. He was, indeed, himself essentially a poet,
though his work in verse falls far below that which he achieved in
prose. The perusal of a slim volume of the sonnets of William Lisle
Bowles was the small occasion from which sprang the great event of
Lamb's and Coleridge's commencing to write poetry. To the sonnet form
Lamb returned again and again, sometimes most felicitously, for two or
three of his sonnets have that haunting quality which makes them
remain in the mind. This one, with its familiar close, may stand as
representative of the days when Bowles was still the god of his
poetic idolatry:

    The Lord of Life shakes off his drowsihed,
      And 'gins to sprinkle on the earth below
      Those rays that from his shaken locks do flow;
    Meantime, by truant love of rambling led,
    I turn my back on thy detested walls,
      Proud City! and thy sons, I leave behind,
      A sordid, selfish, money-getting kind;
    Brute things, who shut their ears when Freedom calls.

    I pass not thee so lightly, well-known spire,
      That minded me of many a pleasure gone,
      Of merrier days, of love and Islington;
    Kindling afresh the flames of past desire.
      And I shall muse on thee, slow journeying on
    To the green plains of pleasant Hertfordshire.

In his blank verse--and couplets--of the same period, the time when he
was yet in the early twenties of his age, Lamb shows himself an apt
disciple of Cowper (to whom, by the way, he addressed a brief poem in
this form "On His Recovery from an Indisposition"). These, however,
were but the steps of a born writer learning his craft by more or less
conscious imitation, and Lamb was not long in finding his feet and
indicating his peculiar individuality. He had learned much from the
free expressions of the old dramatic poets, and in such pieces as "The
Old Familiar Faces"--a poignant cry from a suffering soul--or in his
unconventional sonnet, "The Gipsy's Malison," written more than
thirty years later, we have some of the most markedly individual of
his poems. He was not a poet, he declared--running counter to the
judgement of some of his later critics--but essentially a prosaic
writer. All that he wrote in verse, apart from the plays, would come
within the compass of a small volume, and perhaps half of that would
be occupied with album verses, slight _vers d'occasion_, such as are
more often the products of prose-writers' leisure than of a poet who
sings because he must. He felt his way to prose through poetry as so
many lesser writers have done, and on the way uttered perhaps a dozen
pieces, which for one reason or another will ever make a lasting
appeal to readers. The sense of tragedy in "The Old Familiar
Faces"--more remarkable in that it was tragedy realized and expressed
at the age of three-and-twenty--the weird imagination of "The Gipsy's
Malison," the sweet portraiture of "Hester," the fancy of "A Farewell
to Tobacco," and the "Ode to the Treadmill," will ensure that portion
of his work to which they belong, sharing the immortality of the
essays of Elia.


THE DRAMA

As an earnest student of dramatic literature Lamb early turned his
attention to the theatre, and was moved with an ambition to write for
the stage. In his twenty-fourth year he started upon a piece to be
entitled "Pride's Cure," and his letters about this time contain many
references to its progress and give various extracts from
it--extracts which by themselves might suggest that the play would be
a notable one, but the event turned out otherwise. At the end of 1799
the piece was submitted under the title of "John Woodvil" to Kemble,
and a year later it was rejected. "John Woodvil" is poor indeed as a
play; it has some capital scenes, it has some beautiful passages, but
of dramatic story or characterization there is nothing. The play is
concerned with the fortunes of the Woodvils, a Devonshire family, at
the time of the Restoration. Sir Walter Woodvil is a Cromwellian,
living in hiding with his younger son, Simon, while John holds high
revel with boon companions. Sir Walter's ward, Margaret, who is
beloved by John, finds that young man's affection cooling, and thus
leaves him and goes (disguised as a boy) to join her guardian in
Sherwood Forest. Then John, in a moment of intoxication, blabs to one
of his companions of his proscribed father's whereabouts, and follows
it up by quarrelling with that companion, who forthwith sets off with
another to arrest Sir Walter. The old man believes that his son has
betrayed him and promptly dies of a broken heart. The play ends with
the reconciliation of John and Margaret. A ridiculously slight story
for a five-act play. Much in the writing of it shows the author's
loving study of seventeenth-century models, as may be seen from this
speech of Simon's on being asked what are the sports he and his father
use in the forest:

    Not many; some few, as thus:--
    To see the sun to bed, and to arise,
    Like some hot amourist with glowing eyes,
    Bursting the lazy bands of sleep that bound him,
    With all his fires and travelling glories round him.
    Sometimes the moon on soft night clouds to rest,
    Like beauty nestling in a young man's breast,
    And all the winking stars, her handmaids, keep
    Admiring silence, while those lovers sleep.
    Sometimes outstretcht, in very idleness,
    Nought doing, saying little, thinking less,
    To view the leaves, thin dancers upon air,
    Go eddying round; and small birds, how they fare,
    When mother Autumn fills their beaks with corn,
    Filch'd from the careless Amalthea's horn;
    And how the woods berries and worms provide
    Without their pains, when earth has nought beside
    To answer their small wants.
    To view the graceful deer come tripping by,
    Then stop, and gaze, then turn, they know not why,
    Like bashful younkers in society.
    To mark the structure of a plant or tree,
    And all fair things of earth, how fair they be.

Lamb's next attempt on the theatre was the prose farce of "Mr. H----,"
in which a wholly inadequate motif was made to supply material for two
acts. The piece was played once (Drury Lane, 10th December, 1806) and
damned. The eponymous hero, who chooses to be known merely by his
initial, creates quite a sensation at Bath, as he is believed to be a
nobleman travelling incognito. Hitherto always rejected by the ladies
on account of his unfortunate patronym, he has wooed successfully
under an initial, when he nearly spoils all by betraying that his
name is--Hogsflesh! He is forthwith shunned, but his ladylove remains
faithful to him on his making the very natural change of Hogsflesh
into Bacon. In his method and atmosphere, Lamb had passed from the
seventeenth to the late eighteenth century; he got a hearing, but he
did not get--and it must be admitted that he did not deserve--success.
The farce is interesting as containing in an inquisitive landlord,
Jeremiah Pry, the original, it may be assumed, of a whole family of
Paul Prys, of which to-day John Poole's is the best remembered.

Two other dramatic pieces were written by Lamb in his later years:
"The Wife's Trial, or, The Intruding Widow" (founded upon Crabbe's
"The Confidant"), in blank verse, and a second farce, "The
Pawnbroker's Daughter," in prose. In these two pieces he had made
distinct advances, yet neither was perhaps suited for stage
representation. In "The Wife's Trial" we have a couple--Mr. and Mrs.
Selby--five years married, on whose hospitality a widow forces herself
owing to some mysterious hold which she has over the wife. Mrs. Selby
had been secretly married as a schoolgirl, though her husband left her
at the church door and had died abroad. The widow striving to use this
knowledge for purposes not far removed from blackmail, is neatly hoist
with her own petard, and the slight play ends with the cordial
reconciliation of the Selbys. In "The Pawnbroker's Daughter" once more
the story is of the slightest, though the farce seems more fitted for
the stage than "Mr. H----." Marion, the daughter of a pawnbroker, is,
against her father's wishes, wooed by a gentleman, and, thanks to the
trick of a maid, goes off with her lover while carrying some valuable
jewels with which her father has entrusted her. There are two other
lovers, Pendulous--who has been unjustly hanged and only reprieved
just in time to save his life--and Marian Flyn, and out of their
by-play comes the reconciliation of all. The feelings of the
half-hanged man had earlier been dealt with by Lamb in a letter "On
the Inconveniences Resulting from being Hanged," which he contributed
(as "Pensilis") to "The Reflector" in 1811.


STORIES

After essaying poetry and the drama (for both of which he maintained a
lifelong liking, writing in each form during his latest years), the
next kind of literary expression on which Lamb ventured was that of
stories and verses for children. In "Rosamund Gray," which is scarcely
a tale for children but rather a classic novelette, he gives the story
of a young orphan girl living at Widford in Hertfordshire with her
blind grandmother. The girl is beloved by young Allan Clare, and one
evening, wandering in sheer joy over the scenes of past delightful
rambles, she is assailed by a villain. Her blind grandmother finding
her gone from the cottage dies of a broken heart, and poor Rosamund,
disgraced and terrified, seeks the home of Allan and his sister and
there dies. It is a terrible story told with a beautiful simplicity.
Of how far it may have been founded on fact we do not know, but in
Rosamund, Lamb seems to have depicted something of a likeness of the
"fair-haired maid" with whom he had been in love, and in Elinor Clare
there can be no doubt that he portrayed much of the character of his
own loved sister.

The first of Lamb's known publications professedly for children was
"The King and Queen of Hearts: showing how notably the Queen made her
Tarts, and how scurvily the Knave stole them away: with other
particulars pertaining thereto," and this was only recovered about ten
years since after having been forgotten for the best part of a
century. The booklet, which was issued anonymously, consists of a
number of rough pictures, each accompanied by half a dozen lines of
Hudibrastic verse; the inspiration being of course the old nursery
rhyme about the tarts made by the Queen of Hearts and their subsequent
fate.

The "Tales from Shakspeare," which followed, were written by both
Charles Lamb and his sister: indeed the work seems at first to have
been intended for Mary's hand alone, but her brother undertook the
telling of the stories of the tragedies, and to use his own words, out
of the twenty tales he was "responsible for Lear, Macbeth, Timon,
Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, for occasionally a tail-piece or correction of
grammar, for none of the cuts, and for all of the spelling." When the
work was originally produced it had illustrations to which Lamb
objected. His reference to tail-pieces is possibly an indication that
he sometimes rounded off the stories for his sister, just as he
certainly completed the preface for her. Though the dual authorship of
the volume is referred to in the preface the publisher put Charles
Lamb's name as author of the whole on the title-page of the book. The
"Tales" are of course designed for young readers--they are told, as it
has been recognized, with a kind of Wordsworthian simplicity--as an
introduction to "the rich treasures from which the small and valueless
coins are extracted." How admirably they have served their purpose for
generations of readers is to be seen in the long succession of
editions in which the work has been issued.

Again did brother and sister collaborate in the next of the children's
books associated with the name of Lamb, and again Charles was
responsible for but about a third of the whole. Of the ten tales in
"Mrs. Leicester's School" he wrote but three. These stories, which are
supposed to be told by young girls to their school-mates, are simple
records of childish experiences recounted with childish naïveté. They
met with some success during the lifetime of their authors--ten
editions being disposed of in something under twenty years--and still
hold their own, both as gift books for the young and as parts of that
wonderfully varied, yet almost wholly delightful body of literature,
associated with the name of Lamb. Here, as later in the "Essays of
Elia," we have recollections of the actual events of their own
childhood permeating the invented narratives and imparting a new
interest to the whole. Coleridge prophesied remarkably about this
little book, when in talking to a friend he said:

     It at once soothes and amuses me to think--nay, to
     know--that the time will come when this little volume of my
     dear and well-nigh oldest friend, Mary Lamb, will be not
     only enjoyed but acknowledged as a rich jewel in the
     treasury of our permanent English literature; and I cannot
     help running over in my mind the long list of celebrated
     writers, astonishing geniuses, Novels, Romances, Poems,
     Histories, and dense Political Economy quartos, which,
     compared with "Mrs. Leicester's School," will be remembered
     as often and praised as highly as Wilkie's and Glover's
     Epics and Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophies compared with
     "Robinson Crusoe!"

In the "Adventures of Ulysses" Lamb sought to provide what he termed a
supplement to Fénelon's long-popular "Adventures of Telemachus." He
took the story from Chapman's translation of Homer's "Odyssey," that
translation which a few years later was to inspire John Keats with one
of his finest sonnets. In a preface, a model of concise expression,
the author of the tale explained:

     By avoiding the prolixity which marks the speeches and the
     descriptions in Homer, I have gained a rapidity to the
     narration which I hope will make it more attractive, and
     give it more the air of a romance, to young readers; though
     I am sensible that, by the curtailment, I have sacrificed in
     many places the manners to the passion, the subordinate
     characteristics to the essential interests of the story. The
     attempt is not to be considered as seeking a comparison with
     any of the direct translations of the "Odyssey," either in
     prose or verse; though if I were to state the obligations
     which I have had to one obsolete version, I should run the
     hazard of depriving myself of the very slender degree of
     reputation which I could hope to acquire from a trifle like
     the present undertaking.

If Chapman's translation of Homer was "obsolete" in 1808, it was yet
to be restored to the favour of readers, thanks to the loving homage
of Lamb and Keats. "Chapman is divine," wrote the author of the
"Adventures of Ulysses" to a friend, "and my abridgement has not quite
emptied him of his divinity." In his story Lamb shows how he had
recognized the moral value of the story of Ulysses, of "a brave man
struggling with adversity," but wisely leaves that moral to be
insensibly impressed upon the reader, for he not only refrained from
formulating a definite "moral" in such a case, but has explicitly
recorded his repugnance from the method.


VERSES

In "Poetry for Children" we have again a work for which brother and
sister were jointly responsible, and again--though we cannot exactly
allot the parts--Charles, as we learn from his letters, wrote but
about one third of the whole. Three years after publication the two
small volumes in which this work had been issued were out of print,
though a number of the pieces were included by the publisher in a
"Poetry Book" compilation. In 1827 Lamb wanted a copy and could not
get it, indeed the little work had disappeared in the most complete
fashion, and another half century was to pass before a copy was to be
recovered, and then it came from Australia, closely followed by one of
an American edition, "pirated" in 1812. It is strange that Charles and
Mary Lamb, "an old bachelor and an old maid," as he put it, should
have been so successful as caterers for children. That they were
successful there is no doubt, and there is no reason why this "Poetry
for Children" of theirs should not--now happily recovered in its
entirety--go on pleasing and influencing many generations of young
readers; that they _do_ please the little ones of to-day I have
readily proved. The verses are on the simplest themes, set forth in
varied metres, but chiefly such metres as children can most readily
remember, and though they are for the most part didactic, they are
didactic in a way which the child does not resent. There is no telling
a tale and then trying to enforce a moral from its consideration, but
the moral is a natural part of the whole, and doubtless has its
healthy effect.

"Prince Dorus" is a pleasant little story in easy verse, telling of a
king who fell in love with a great Princess, but was in despair
because his love was not requited:

    "This to the King a courteous Fairy told
    And bade the Monarch in his suit be bold;
    For he that would the charming Princess wed,
    Had only on her cat's black tail to tread,
    When straight the Spell would vanish into air,
    And he enjoy for life the yielding fair."

At length he succeeds in this seemingly simple exploit, and in place
of the cat there springs up a huge man who foretells that when married
the King shall have a son afflicted with a huge nose, a son who shall
never be happy in his love:

    Till he with tears his blemish shall confess
    Discern its odious length and wish it less.

It is a pleasant little story marked with Lamb's keen sense of humour.

"Beauty and the Beast" is a booklet in verse for young readers. It was
published shortly after "Prince Dorus," and is believed--though the
evidence as to authorship is inconclusive--to have been written by
Charles or Mary Lamb. It is a simple rendering in Hudibrastic verse of
a familiar nursery story. Perhaps a very slight piece of evidence in
favour of the Lamb authorship may be found in the fact that it shares
with "Prince Dorus" the sub-title, "A Poetical Version of an Ancient
Tale."


CRITICISM

In the mid-part of the period during which Charles Lamb was writing,
either on his own account or in collaboration with his sister, the
books for children to which reference has just been made, he was also
engaged upon the work which was to bring him before the world as a
great critic, as the first of the Neo-Elizabethans if I may substitute
that nickname for the time-honoured one which calls him the last of
the Elizabethans. For us, to-day, with our bountiful acknowledgment of
all that we owe to the great body of dramatic poets who flourished
during the latter part of the sixteenth century and the first half of
the seventeenth, for us with our many collected editions of the works
of these men it is somewhat difficult to realize the benighted
condition in which our fellows were situated a century ago.
Elizabethan drama to by far the greater number of our great
grandparents meant Shakespeare and Shakespeare alone; to us
Shakespeare is only the sun of a great dramatic planetary system, and
the corrected view is largely owing to the efforts of one
revolutionary critic, and that critic was Charles Lamb. His earliest
letters show that he had revelled in this by-way of literature, and
had there found much that was of the best comparatively forgotten, or
at least wholly neglected, and he gladly availed himself of an
opportunity afforded for selecting striking passages from the English
dramatic poets. "Specimens are becoming fashionable," he wrote. "We
have 'Specimens of Ancient English Poets,' 'Specimens of Modern
English Poets,' 'Specimens of Ancient English Prose Writers,' without
end. They used to be called 'Beauties'! You have seen 'Beauties of
Shakspeare'? so have many people that never saw any beauties in
Shakspeare." Lamb was not by any means, however, an imitator of the
unfortunate clerical forger, Dodd, in the scheme which he had in hand.
When we turn to the "Specimens" themselves we discover them to be fine
indeed, and in reading them and the brief but pregnant notes upon
them, we marvel at the sureness of the touch and the maturity of the
writer. The notes, or commentary, rarely extend beyond a score of
lines, and are most often far below that, yet they are always
wonderfully pertinent; there is "no philology, no antiquarianism, no
discussion of difficult or corrupt passages," no pedantry in fact, or
dry-as-dustism. It must not be forgotten when we look over the volume
with scenes from the plays of Kyd, Peele, Marlowe, Dekker, Marston,
Chapman, Heywood, Middleton, Tourneur, Webster, Ford, Jonson,
Beaumont, Fletcher, Massinger, Shirley and others--it must not be
forgotten that Lamb was pleading the merits of these dramatic poets
before a generation to which some of them were but names and the rest
practically non-existent. The suggestion which Lamb throws out in the
preface that he had desired to show "how much of Shakspeare shines in
the great men his contemporaries" is amply borne out in his brief
notes upon his selections. This can best be proved by giving some of
the editorial comments from the collection itself, comments which
fully establish Lamb in his high place among the clearest sighted if
least voluminous of our true critics:

     Heywood is a sort of _prose_ Shakspeare. His scenes are to
     the full as natural and affecting. But we miss _the Poet_,
     that which in Shakspeare always appears out and above the
     surface of _the nature_. Heywood's characters, his Country
     Gentlemen, etc., are exactly what we see (but of the best
     kind of what we see) in life. Shakspeare makes us believe,
     while we are among his lovely creations, that they are
     nothing but what we are familiar with, as in dreams new
     things seem old: but we awake, and sigh for the difference.

       *       *       *       *       *

     The insipid levelling morality to which the modern stage is
     tied down would not admit of such admirable passions as
     these scenes are filled with. A Puritanical obtuseness of
     sentiment, a stupid infantile goodness, is creeping among
     us, instead of the vigorous passions and virtues clad in
     flesh and blood, with which the old dramatists present us.
     Those noble and liberal casuists could discern in the
     differences, the quarrels, the animosities of man, a beauty
     and truth of moral feeling, no less than in the iterately
     inculcated duties of forgiveness and atonement. With us all
     is hypocritical meekness. A reconciliation scene (let the
     occasion be never so absurd or unnatural) is always sure of
     applause. Our audiences come to the theatre to be
     complimented on their goodness. They compare notes with the
     amiable characters in the play, and find a wonderful
     similarity of disposition between them. We have a common
     stock of dramatic morality out of which a writer may be
     supplied without the trouble of copying from originals
     within his own breast. To know the boundaries of honour, to
     be judiciously valiant, to have a temperance which shall
     beget a smoothness in the angry swellings of youth, to
     esteem life as nothing when the sacred reputation of a
     parent is to be defended, yet to shake and tremble under a
     pious cowardice when that ark of an honest confidence is
     found to be frail and tottering, to feel the true blows of a
     real disgrace blunting that sword which the imaginary
     strokes of a supposed false imputation had put so keen an
     edge upon but lately; to do, or to imagine this done in a
     feigned story, asks something more of a moral sense,
     somewhat a greater delicacy of perception in questions of
     right and wrong, than goes to the writing of two or three
     hackneyed sentences about the laws of honour as opposed to
     the laws of the land or a commonplace against duelling. Yet
     such things would stand a writer nowadays in far better
     stead than Captain Ager and his conscientious honour; and he
     would be considered a far better teacher of morality than
     old Rowley or Middleton if they were living.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Though some resemblance may be traced between the Charms in
     Macbeth and the Incantations in this Play, which is supposed
     to have preceded it, this coincidence will not detract much
     from the originality of Shakspeare. His Witches are
     distinguished from the Witches of Middleton by essential
     differences. These are creatures to whom man or woman
     plotting some dire mischief might resort for occasional
     consultation. Those originate deeds of blood, and begin bad
     impulses to men. From the moment that their eyes first meet
     with Macbeth's, he is spellbound. That meeting sways his
     destiny. He can never break the fascination. These Witches
     can hurt the body: those have power over the soul. Hecate in
     Middleton has a Son, a low buffoon: the hags of Shakspeare
     have neither child of their own, nor seem to be descended
     from any parent. They are foul Anomalies, of whom we know
     not whence they are sprung, nor whether they have beginning
     or ending. As they are without human passions, so they seem
     to be without human relations. They come with thunder and
     lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of
     them.--Except Hecate, they have no names; which heightens
     their mysteriousness. Their names, and some of the
     properties, which Middleton has given to his Hags, excite
     smiles. The Weird Sisters are serious things. Their presence
     cannot co-exist with mirth. But in a lesser degree the
     witches of Middleton are fine creations. Their power too is,
     in some measure, over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies,
     strife, _like a thick scurf o'er life_.

Here surely we have the right stuff. Terse, pregnant sentences; few
words, but going to the very heart of the matter. That Lamb was justly
proud of his pioneer work in this field of literary research is
certain, for in a short autobiography which he prepared for a friend's
album--in what has been called "the briefest, and perhaps the wittiest
and most truthful autobiography in the language"--he wrote as follows:

     He also was the first to draw the Public attention to the
     old English Dramatists, in a work called "Specimens of
     English Dramatic Writers who lived about the Time of
     Shakspeare," published about fifteen years since.

Of Lamb's work in this field the elder Disraeli admirably said, "He
carries us on through whole scenes by a true, unerring motion. His was
a poetical mind, labouring in poetry." Within the century that has
elapsed since Lamb was engaged in exploring the forgotten old tomes in
which lay buried so much excellent literature, the study which he
started has taken its place as one of the most important of its kind,
and a large library might be formed of the books and reprints which
may be looked upon as direct descendants of that modest single octavo
volume of 1808. During his later years Lamb devised something in the
nature of a supplement when he prepared further extracts from the
Garrick collection of plays in the British Museum for Hone's "Table
Book" (1827), and these extracts are now generally bound up with the
earlier ones in a single work.


ESSAYS

In giving this summary account of Lamb's writings it has been thought
best only to keep to a very roughly chronological method, leaving his
letters to be touched upon last. Finding earliest expression in
poetry, he then turned to the drama, fully equipped with knowledge and
a fine enthusiasm, but lacking some of the most vitally essential
qualities necessary to success; he then passed more or less by force
of circumstance--the need of making money and the desire to help his
sister in her newly-found work--to the writing of prose and verse for
children; and later he began to make wider use of the fine critical
instinct of which he had given early indications in his
correspondence. All of these were to be in a measure overshadowed by
his achievement as essayist. That work as essayist was chiefly the
product of his prime--of the days of the "London Magazine"--but he had
made several notable contributions of this character during the
preceding twenty years; essays which are now to be found in different
posthumous collections of his writings--"Eliana," "Critical Essays,"
"Essays and Sketches," "Miscellaneous Prose," and so on. When, thanks
to the kindly offices of Coleridge, Lamb became a contributor to the
"Morning Post," he proposed to furnish some imitations of Burton, the
author of the "Anatomy of Melancholy," but these, not unnaturally,
being adjudged unsuitable for a daily newspaper found a place in the
"John Woodvil" volume of 1802. Yet it was in the journal named that on
1st February, 1802, appeared a brief Essay in the form of a letter on
"The Londoner." In this essay we have Lamb using the same phrases that
he had employed a year earlier in writing to Wordsworth. In 1811-14
Lamb was contributing essays (including "On the Inconveniences
Resulting from Being Hanged," "Recollections of Christ's Hospital,"
and on "The Melancholy of Tailors") to Leigh Hunt's "Reflector," to
the "Gentleman's Magazine," and the "Champion." Eight of these essays
were included in the two volume "Works" of 1818.

It was with the establishment of the "London Magazine" in 1820 that,
as has been said, Lamb's great opportunity came and was greatly
taken. The magazine began, as we have seen, in January, and the editor
soon gathered around him a remarkably brilliant body of contributors.
To their number in August was added "Elia," whose modest
signature--later to become perhaps the most widely-known pen-name in
our literature--was appended to an article on "The South Sea House."
Thenceforward--with the occasional missing of a month here or there,
balanced by other months presenting two--the essays appeared with such
regularity that twenty-eight months later there were twenty-seven of
the twenty-eight essays which were gathered into the volume published
in 1823 as "The Essays of Elia."

The publication of the essays in volume form did not by any means
indicate that the author had worked out his vein; indeed, while the
book was passing through the press he was writing other essays for the
"London," though not with the same regularity; afterwards he
contributed to the "New Monthly" and other magazines. Such of this
later work as he chose to preserve formed "The Last Essays of Elia,"
published ten years after the earlier work.


LETTERS

All through his working life as man of letters Lamb was engaged in
manifesting that side of his genius which whilst known to but few
persons during his lifetime was to be one of those most widely and
most lovingly known afterwards. He was of the greatest of our
letter-writers. It was perhaps but another aspect of the essayist--or
rather we might say that his work as essayist was the crowning
development of his sedulous habit of being himself when communing on
paper with his intimate friends. It has been suggested that such
finished works as are many of Lamb's letters were, so to speak, built
up bit by bit, and then copied as completed wholes before being
despatched to those for whom they were designed. Whether written with
a running pen, as a large proportion of them undoubtedly were, or
written with the patience of the essayist ponderingly in search of the
_mot juste_, they are always true Lamb, individual expressions far
removed from the ordinary letters of ordinary folk; they are at once
informing revelations of the writer in his relations with his fellows,
and they are always marked by essentially literary qualities. In his
letters will be found not infrequently--both in idea and in
expression--the germs of his essays.

Lamb was first revealed to the reading public as a great letter-writer
in Talfourd's "Memorials of Charles Lamb" nearly seventy years ago.
Since that time each further publication of the letters has brought
fresh material to light which has but gone to strengthen Lamb's
position as one of the first two or three letter-writers whose
epistles have taken their places in English literature. If we must
"place" our great men, there are not wanting critics who would accord
Lamb a position at the very head of those in this particular branch.
"To an idler like myself, to write and receive letters are both very
pleasant;" thus Lamb in one of his earliest letters to Coleridge, and
there can be little doubt that in this occupation he frequently found
the truth of the statement that the labour we delight in physics pain.
In communion with men of kindred tastes he must often have lost the
sense of his haunting troubles in intellectual and external interests.

Two or three scraps from the letters have been quoted in the first
chapter but as their peculiarly rich wit and humour, using that
much-abused word in its fullest significance, can best be shown by
example, we may here give a couple more. The first is from a letter
written in 1810, and addressed to Manning, the correspondent with whom
Lamb was most entertainingly whimsical. The second letter, given in
its entirety, was addressed in 1827 to Thomas Hood.

     Holcroft had finished his life when I wrote to you, and
     Hazlitt has since finished his life--I do not mean his own
     life, but he has finished a life of Holcroft, which is going
     to press. Tuthill is Dr. Tuthill. I continue Mr. Lamb. I
     have published a little book for children on titles of
     honour: and to give them some idea of the difference of rank
     and gradual rising, I have made a little scale, supposing
     myself to receive the following various accessions of
     dignity from the king, who is the fountain of honour.--As at
     first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb; 2, C. Lamb, Esq.; 3, Sir C. Lamb,
     Bart,; 4, Baron Lamb of Stamford; 5, Viscount Lamb; 6, Earl
     Lamb; 7, Marquis Lamb; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like
     quibbling to carry it on further, and especially as it is
     not necessary for children to go beyond the ordinary titles
     of sub-regal dignity in our own country, otherwise I have
     sometimes in my dreams imagined myself still advancing, as
     9th, King Lamb; 10th, Emperor Lamb; 11th, Pope Innocent,
     higher than which is nothing but the Lamb of God. Puns I
     have not made many (nor punch much), since the day of my
     last; one I cannot help relating. A constable in Salisbury
     Cathedral was telling me that eight people dined at the top
     of the spire of the cathedral, upon which I remarked that
     they must be very sharp set. But in general I cultivate the
     reasoning part of my mind more than the imaginative. Do you
     know Kate * * *. I am so stuffed out with eating turkey for
     dinner, and another turkey for supper yesterday (turkey in
     Europe and turkey in Asia), that I can't jog on. It is New
     Year here. That is, it was New Year half a year back, when I
     was writing this. Nothing puzzles me more than time and
     space, and yet nothing puzzles me less, for I never think
     about them. The Persian ambassador is the principal thing
     talked of now. I sent some people to see him worship the sun
     on Primrose Hill at half past six in the morning 28th
     November; but he did not come, which makes me think the old
     fire-worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia. Have
     you trampled on the Cross yet? The Persian ambassador's name
     is Shaw Ali Mirza. The common people call him Shaw Nonsense.
     While I think of it, I have put three letters besides my own
     three into the India post for you, from your brother,
     sister, and some gentleman whose name I forget. Will they,
     have they, did they, come safe? The distance you are at cuts
     up tenses by the root.

     DEAR HOOD,--If I have anything in my head I will
     send it to Mr. Watts. Strictly speaking he should have had
     my Album verses, but a very intimate friend importuned me
     for the trifles, and I believe I forgot Mr. Watts, or lost
     sight at the time of his similar Souvenir. Jamieson conveyed
     the farce from me to Mrs. C. Kemble, _he_ will not be in
     town before the 27th. Give our kind loves to all at
     Highgate, and tell them that we have finally torn ourselves
     out right away from Colebrooke, where I had _no_ health, and
     are about to domiciliate for good at Enfield, where I have
     experienced _good_.

          "Lord what good hours do we keep!
           How quietly we sleep!"

     See the rest in the Complete Angler. We have got our books
     into our new house. I am a drayhorse if I was not asham'd of
     the indigested dirty lumber as I toppled 'em out of the
     cart, and blest Becky that came with 'em for her having an
     unstuff'd brain with such rubbish. We shall get in by
     Michael's mass. 'Twas with some pain we were evuls'd from
     Colebrook. You may find some of our flesh sticking to the
     door posts. To change habitations is to die to them, and in
     my time I have died seven deaths. But I don't know whether
     every such change does not bring with it a rejuvenescence.
     'Tis an enterprise, and shoves back the sense of death's
     approximating, which tho' not terrible to me, is at all
     times particular distasteful. My house-deaths have generally
     been periodical, recurring after seven years, but this last
     is premature by half that time. Cut off in the flower of
     Colebrook. The Middletonian stream and all its echoes mourn.
     Even minnows dwindle. _A parvis fiunt MINIMI._ I fear to
     invite Mrs. Hood to our new mansion, lest she envy it and
     rote us. But when we are fairly in, I hope she will come and
     try it. I heard she and you were made uncomfortable by some
     unworthy to be cared for attacks, and have tried to set up
     a feeble counter-action through the Table Book of last
     Saturday. Has it not reach'd you, that you are silent about
     it? Our new domicile is no manor house, but new, and
     externally not inviting, but furnish'd within with every
     convenience. Capital new locks to every door, capital grates
     in every room, with nothing to pay for incoming and the rent
     £10 less than the Islington one. It was built a few years
     since at £1,100 expense, they tell me, and I perfectly
     believe it. And I get it for £35 exclusive of moderate
     taxes. We think ourselves most lucky. It is not our
     intention to abandon Regent Street, and West End
     perambulations (monastic and terrible thought!) but
     occasionally to breathe the FRESHER AIR of the
     metropolis. We shall put up a bedroom or two (all we want)
     for occasional ex-rustication, where we shall visit, not be
     visited. Plays too we'll see--perhaps our own. Urbani
     Sylvani, and Sylvan Urbanuses in turns. Courtiers for a
     spurt, then philosophers. Old homely tell-truths and
     learn-truths in the virtuous shades of Enfield. Liars again
     and mocking gibers in the coffee-houses and resorts of
     London. What can a mortal desire more for his bi-parted
     nature?

     O the curds and cream you shall eat with us here!
     O the turtle soup and lobster sallads we shall devour with you there!
     O the old books we shall peruse here!
     O the new nonsense we shall trifle with over there!
     O Sir T. Browne!--here.
     O Mr. Hood and Mr. Jerdan there! thine, C(urbanus) L(sylvanus)
           (ELIA ambo)--

     Inclos'd are verses which Emma sat down to write, her first,
     on the eve after your departure. Of course they are only for
     Mrs. H.'s perusal. They will shew you at least that one of
     our party is not willing to cut old friends. What to call
     'em I don't know. Blank verse they are not, because of the
     rhymes.--Rhimes they are not, because of the blank verse.
     Heroics they are not, because they are lyric, lyric they are
     not, because of the Heroic measure. They must be called EMMAICS.--

       *       *       *       *       *

The full charm of the long early letters, with their pleasant
expatiations on literary themes can scarcely be sampled without doing
violence. The various editions in which the letters are obtainable
will be found referred to in the bibliographical list at the end of
this little book. In illustration of their continued appreciation it
may be mentioned that three editions have been published during the
past year or so, each of which contains letters denied to the others.
The latest edition--that of Mr. E. V. Lucas--is also the fullest, both
in the number of letters included and in the elaboration of its
annotatory matter.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: Holograph letter to John Clare, "the Peasant Poet."
Reduced facsimile from the original in the British Museum.]

     [Transcript of the Handwritten Letter To John Clare.]

     India house 31 Aug 1822

     Dear Clare, I thank you heartily for your present. I am an
     inveterate old Londoner, but while I am among your choice
     collections, I seem to be native to them, and free of the
     country. The quantity of your observation has astonished me.
     What have most pleased me have been Recollections after a
     Ramble, and those Grongar Hill kind of pieces in eight
     syllable lines, my favourite measure, such as Cowper Hill
     and Solitude. In some of your story telling Ballads the
     provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too
     profuse with them. In poetry slang [underlined] of every
     kind is to be avoided. There is a rustick Cockneyism
     as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to
     Helpstone. The true rustic style, the Arcadian English, I
     think is to be found in Shenstones. Would his
     Schoolmistress, the prettiest of poems, have been better, if
     he had used quite the Goody's own language? Now and then a
     home rusticism is fresh & startling, but where nothing is
     gained in expression, it is out of tenor. It may make
     people [crossed out] folks smile and stare, but the
     ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will
     prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted, as
     you deserve to be. Excuse my freedom, and take the same
     liberty with my puns [underlined].

     I send you two little volumes of my spare hours. They are of
     all sorts, there is a methodist hymn for Sundays, and a
     farce for Saturday night. Pray give them a place on your
     shelf. Pray accept a little volume, of which I have
     duplicate, that I may return in an equal number to your
     welcome presents--

     I think I am indebted to you for a sonnet in the London for
     August.

     Since I saw you I have been in France, and have eaten frogs.
     The nicest little rabbity things you ever tasted. Do look
     about for them. Make Mrs. Clare pick off the hind quarters,
     boil them plain, with parsley and butter. The
     four [crossed out] fore quarters are not so good. She may
     let them hop off by themselves. Yours sincerely, Cha^s
     Lamb.




THE ESSAYS OF ELIA


"Shakespeare himself might have read them and Hamlet have acted them;
for truly was our excellent friend of the genuine line of Yorick."
Thus it was that Leigh Hunt referred to the essays which without doubt
stand as the most characteristic of Charles Lamb's contributions to
literature. His reputation, as was recognized and acknowledged within
a few years of his death, "will ultimately rest on the Essays of Elia,
than which our literature rejoices in few things finer."

The intimate footing upon which he puts himself and his reader, is
perhaps not so much a peculiarity of his own as it is the dominant
note always in the work of your born essayist. He discourses high
truth or fresh philosophy, truest poetry, richest wit, or the most
delicate humour, he presents personal experiences with that simplicity
of pure camaraderie which assumes that the reader could do the
same--if he had the mind, as Lamb himself put it when wittily snubbing
Wordsworth. In most books, as De Quincey has pointed out, the author
figures as a mere abstraction, "without sex or age or local station,"
whom the reader banishes from his thoughts, but in the case of Lamb
and that brilliant line of authors to which he belongs, we must know
something of the man himself, and as I have said earlier, we get it
abundantly scattered up and down his writings. Even if we do not
happen to be acquainted with the actual biography, we can build up in
our minds on reading the essays of Elia a life story not far removed
from actuality, though it would be wanting in any hint of tragedy. It
is this intimacy which at once attracts and repels readers, attracts
all those who are, in however small a degree, kindred spirits, and
repels, perhaps, others. The quaintness, oddity, flippancy, are
wrought together with deep thought, poetry, and feeling to a wonderful
degree. The very diversity of theme and manner--this varying change
from grave to gay, from lively to severe--is indeed but a reflection
of life itself, which with the most fortunate of us dashes our smiles
with tears, and even to the most unfortunate imparts something of
pleasure and delight.

The "Essays of Elia" may fittingly be dealt with as at once the most
representative and the finest of his writings. Great as is the range
of their subjects, it will be found that they are more or less unified
by the author's individuality both in point of view and in treatment,
that they are all informed with what has been termed Lamb's calm and
self-reposing spirit, that they are all more or less strongly marked
by that style which, based upon a loving study of the Elizabethan and
seventeenth-century writers, was yet for the most part distinguished
by concision and ease. He took from his models their richness of
language without their prolixity, their felicity of expression without
their tendency to the elaboration of conceits; he unconsciously
employed their varied styles, to form an individual style of his own.

It is only possible in one small section of a small volume such as
this to indicate a portion of the wealth in the Elia series, so varied
are the themes which inspired the essayist: the delicious drollery of
the "Dissertation upon Roast Pig"; the immortal characterization of
"Mrs. Battle's Opinions upon Whist"; the pleasant personal touches in
a score of the essays; the cry of stifled affection in "Dream
Children"; the whimsicality of "Popular Fallacies"; each of these, and
as many again unspecified might be made the subject of separate
comment. Indeed, for variety in unity there are few books to compare
with our Elia. In the opening essay--the first of the series to appear
in the "London Magazine," the one to stand in the forefront of the
volume--Lamb blends reminiscences with fancy, as he continued to do
frequently throughout the series, in a way that is as suggestive to
the seeker after autobiographical data as it is engaging to the reader
in search of nothing further than the rich delight which comes of
passing time with a literary gem. Lamb pictures "The South Sea House"
as it was when he knew it thirty years earlier--he speaks of it as
forty years. There is a presentation of the old place, fallen more or
less completely upon days of desuetude, with some wonderfully-limned
portraits of the officials. Here is the deputy-cashier, Thomas Tame:

     He had the air and stoop of a nobleman. You would have taken
     him for one, had you met him in one of the passages leading
     to Westminster Hall. By stoop, I mean that gentle bending of
     the body forwards, which, in great men, must be supposed to
     be the effect of an habitual condescending attention to the
     applications of their inferiors. While he held you in
     converse, you felt strained to the height in the colloquy.
     The conference over, you were at leisure to smile at the
     comparative insignificance of the pretensions which had just
     awed you. His intellect was of the shallowest order. It did
     not reach to a saw or a proverb. His mind was in its
     original state of white paper. A sucking babe might have
     posed him. What was it then? Was he rich! Alas, no! Thomas
     Tame was very poor. Both he and his wife looked outwardly
     gentle folks, when I fear all was not well at all times
     within. She had a neat meagre person, which it was evident
     she had not sinned in over-pampering; but in its veins was
     noble blood. She traced her descent, by some labyrinth of
     relationship, which I never thoroughly understood--much less
     can explain with any heraldic certainty at this time of
     day--to the illustrious but unfortunate house of
     Derwentwater. This was the secret of Thomas's stoop. This
     was the thought, the sentiment, the bright solitary star of
     your lives, ye mild and happy pair, which cheered you in the
     night of intellect, and in the obscurity of your station!
     This was to you instead of riches, instead of rank, instead
     of glittering attainments, and it was worth them all
     together. You insulted none with it; but, while you wore it
     as a piece of defensive armour only, no insult likewise
     could reach you through it. _Decus et solamen._

Then at the close Elia says, "Reader, what if I have been playing with
thee all this while--peradventure the very names, which I have
summoned up before thee, are fantastic--insubstantial--like Henry
Pimpernel and old John Naps of Greece; be satisfied that something
answering to them has had a being. Their importance is from the past."
The names may have been mostly fantastic--in one case we know that it
was not, for "Henry Man, the wit, the polished man of letters" is
known to delvers among dead books--the types are immortal. In this
first essay we find in such sentences as "their sums in triple
columniations, set down with formal superfluity of cyphers," an
illustration of Lamb's wonderful use of what an antipathetic critic
might term an informal superfluity of syllables.

The next essay, reflecting the atmosphere of "Oxford in the Vacation,"
was written presumably during a holiday visit to the University of
Cambridge, though Elia touching upon matters concerning church
holidays breaks off with--

     ... but I am wading out of my depths. I am not the man to
     decide the limits of civil and ecclesiastical authority--I
     am plain Elia--no Selden, nor Archbishop Usher--though at
     present in the thick of their books here in the heart of
     learning, under the shadow of mighty Bodley.

Then follows a passage eminently characteristic of Elia's happy manner
of playing with a theme:

     I can here play the gentleman, enact the student To such a
     one as myself, who has been defrauded in his young years of
     the sweet food of academic institution, nowhere is so
     pleasant to while away a few idle weeks at one or other
     of the universities. Their vacation, too, at this time of
     the year, falls in pat with _ours_. Here I can take my walks
     unmolested, and fancy myself of what degree of standing I
     please. I seem admitted _ad eundem_. I fetch up past
     opportunities. I can rise at the chapel-bell, and dream that
     it rings for _me_. In moods of humility I can be a Sizar, or
     a Servitor. When the peacock vein rises, I strut a Gentleman
     Commoner. In graver moments, I proceed Master of Arts.
     Indeed I do not think I am much unlike that respectable
     character. I have seen your dim-eyed vergers, and bed-makers
     in spectacles drop a bow or curtsey as I pass, wisely
     mistaking me for something of the sort. I go about in black,
     which favours the notion. Only in Christ Church reverend
     quadrangle I can be content to pass for nothing short of a
     Seraphic doctor.

     The walks at these times are so much one's own--the tall
     trees of Christ's, the groves of Magdalen! The halls
     deserted, and with open doors inviting one to slip in
     unperceived, and pay a devoir to some Founder or noble or
     royal Benefactress (that should have been ours), whose
     portrait seems to smile upon their over-looked beadsman, and
     to adopt me for their own. Then, to take a peep in by the
     way at the butteries, and sculleries, redolent of antique
     hospitality: the immense caves of kitchens, kitchen
     fire-places, cordial recesses; ovens whose first pies were
     baked four centuries ago; and spits which have cooked for
     Chaucer! Not the meanest minister among the dishes but is
     hallowed to me through his imagination, and the Cook goes
     forth a Manciple.

The next essay, "Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago," should
be read along with an earlier one, which does not belong actually to
the Elia series, "Recollections of Christ's Hospital." In the later
essay Lamb affected to look at the school as it might have been to a
scholar less fortunately circumstanced than himself, a boy far from
his family and friends, and the boy whom he selected was that one of
his school companions whom he knew best and with whom in manhood he
had sustained the closest friendship--S. T. Coleridge. That friend he
thus apostrophizes in a passage which has frequently been quoted:

     Come back into memory, like as thou wert in the day-spring
     of thy fancies, with hope like a fiery column before
     thee--the dark pillar not yet turned--Samuel Taylor
     Coleridge--Logician, Metaphysician, Bard! How have I seen
     the casual passer through the Cloisters stand still,
     entranced with admiration (while he weighed the
     disproportion between the _speech_ and the _garb_ of the
     young Mirandula), to hear thee unfold, in thy deep and sweet
     intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus or Plotinus (for
     even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such
     philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in his Greek, or
     Pindar, while the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed to
     the accents of the inspired charity-boy!

"The Two Races of Men," divides men into those who borrow and those
who lend, the theme being followed out with great humour, and going on
to those "whose treasures are rather cased in leather covers than
closed in iron coffers," and then giving pleasant bits about
Coleridge--under his _nomme de guerre_ of Comberbatch--and his theory
that "the title to property in a book ... is in exact ratio to the
claimant's powers of understanding and appreciating the same." "Should
he go on acting upon this theory," adds Elia, "which of our shelves is
safe?"

"New Year's Eve" suggests a train of reflections--not, in the
platitudinous manner of looking back over the errors of the past year
and making good resolutions for the coming one--but on mortality
generally, and on the passing of time and the passing of life:

     I am not content to pass away like a weaver's shuttle! These
     metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught
     of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide, that
     smoothly bears human life to eternity; and reluct at the
     inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green
     earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural
     solitude, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up
     my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age
     to which I am arrived; I and my friends; to be no younger,
     no richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age;
     or drop like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave.

Next comes the immortal "Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist,"--Mrs.
Battle, whose wish for "a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour
of the game" has become almost proverbial so commonly is it repeated,
whose heart-whole devotion to her game will make true Elians whist
players when bridge is forgotten. In "A Chapter on Ears," Elia
expatiates upon his insensibility to music; in "All Fool's Day" he
puts wisdom under motley in a truly Shakespearian fashion, with the
fine conclusion, "and take my word for this, reader, and say a fool
told it you, if you please, that he who hath not a dram of folly in
his mixture, hath pounds of much worse matter in his composition."

"The Quakers' Meeting" is a delicate and impressive verbal
representation of the spirit of Quakerdom as revealed to one not a
Quaker but ready to appreciate the quietist spirit. Those who have
never attended a meeting of the kind feel that they have realized its
significance when they come across a passage such as this:

     More frequently the meeting is broken up without a word
     having been spoken. But the mind has been fed. You go away
     with a sermon, not made with hands. You have been in the
     milder caverns of Trophonius; or as in some den, where that
     fiercest and savagest of all wild creatures, the Tongue,
     that unruly member, has strangely lain tied up and captive.
     You have bathed with stillness--O, when the spirit is sore
     fettered, even tired to sickness of the janglings and
     nonsense noises of the world, what a balm and a solace it
     is, to go and seat yourself for a quiet half hour, upon some
     undisputed corner of a bench, among the gentle Quakers!

Then follows a quaint Elian touch of humour in the application of a
line of Wordsworth's far from that poet's intention: "Their garb and
stillness conjoined, present an uniformity, tranquil and
herd-like--as in the pasture--'forty feeding like one.'"

An encounter in a coach with a loquacious gentleman whom he took to be
a school-master set Lamb musing on the differences between "The Old
and the New School-Master," on the way in which the pedagogue is
differentiated by the very conditions of his labours not only from his
boys but from his fellows generally; he is a man for whom life is in a
measure poisoned, "nothing comes to him not spoiled by the
sophisticating medium of moral uses." Incidentally too, Elia informs
us that the school-master

     is so used to teaching that he wants to be teaching you. One
     of these professors, upon my complaining that these little
     sketches of mine were anything but methodical, and that I
     was unable to make them otherwise, kindly offered to
     instruct me in the method by which young gentlemen in his
     seminary were taught to compose English themes. The jests of
     a school-master are coarse or thin.

The next essay--the only one in "The Essays of Elia" volume which had
not appeared in the "London Magazine"--is a pretty bit about
"Valentine's Day." This is followed by an inquiry into the existence
of "Imperfect Sympathies," the writer declaring that he had been
trying all his life--without success--to like Scotsmen, and that he
had the same imperfect sympathy with Jews. The Scotsmen are too
precise, too matter of fact at once in their own statements and those
to which alone they will attend. This would of itself be sufficient
to establish the "imperfect sympathy," for in another connection Lamb
had declared his preference for "a matter of lie man."

"Witches and Other Night Fears" is an examination, in which
whimsicality is blent with deep seriousness, of the night terrors of
imaginative childhood; Elia showed how a picture in an old time Bible
history had shaped his fears and made his nights hideous for several
years of his early childhood, though he holds that "It is not book, or
picture, or the stories of foolish servants, which create these
terrors in children. They can at most but give them direction." He
suggests that the kind of fear is purely spiritual, and incidentally
gives a characteristically quaint turn in "My night-fancies have long
ceased to be afflictive. I confess an occasional nightmare; but I do
not, as in early youth, keep a stud of them."

In "My Relations" we have an excellent instance of Lamb's veiled
autobiography; he begins by saying that he has no brother or sister
and at once proceeds to a close and analytical portrait of his
"cousin," James Elia, that supposed personage being Charles Lamb's own
brother John, who died in November, 1821, a few months after the
original appearance of this essay. "Mackery End in Hertfordshire,"
continues the theme of relations with another striking piece of
portraiture in another supposed cousin of Elia's, Bridget (really Mary
Lamb). In limning his sister he was of course hampered somewhat by her
terrible affliction, but wonderfully has he surmounted it, and
delightful indeed it is to follow the narrative of the "cousins'"
visit to unknown cousins at the old place in "the green plains of
pleasant Hertfordshire."

Dealing with the subject of "Modern Gallantry" Elia shows how it is
wanting in the true spirit of gallantry which should consist not in
compliments to youth and beauty but in reverence to sex.

"The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple" is one of the essays richest at
once in personal recollections, in wonderful portraiture, and in those
subtle literary touches which impart their peculiar flavour to the
whole. A sketch of the author's father as Lovel was quoted from this
essay in the opening chapter. Elia's observation, his felicity of
expression, his originality of thought, a hint of his playfulness, may
all be recognized in the very commencement of this delicious essay:

     I was born, and passed the first seven years of my life in
     the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its
     fountain, its river, I had almost said--for in those young
     years, what was this king of rivers to me but a stream that
     watered our pleasant places?--these are my oldest
     recollections. I repeat, to this day, no verses to myself
     more frequently, or with kindlier emotion, than those of
     Spenser, where he speaks of this spot:

          "There when they came, whereas those bricky towers,
          The which on Themmes brode aged back doth ride,
          Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers,
          There whylome wont the Templar knights to bide,
          Till they decayd through pride."

     Indeed, it is the most elegant spot in the metropolis. What
     a transition for a countryman visiting London for the first
     time--the passing from the crowded Strand or Fleet Street,
     by unexpected avenues, into its magnificent ample squares,
     its classic green recesses! what a cheerful, liberal look
     hath that portion of it, which, from three sides, overlooks
     the greater garden, that goodly pile

          "Of building strong, albeit of Paper hight,"

     confronting, with massy contrast, the lighter, older, more
     fantastically shrouded one named of Harcourt, with the
     cheerful Crown Office Row (place of my kindly engendure)
     right opposite the stately stream, which washes the
     garden-foot with her yet scarcely trade-polluted waters, and
     seems but just weaned from her Twickenham Naiades! a man
     would give something to have been born in such places. What
     a collegiate aspect has that fine Elizabethan hall, where
     the fountain plays, which I have made to rise and fall, how
     many times! to the astoundment of the young urchins, my
     contemporaries, who, not being able to guess at its
     recondite machinery, were almost tempted to hail the
     wondrous work as magic! What an antique air had the now
     almost effaced sun-dials with their moral inscriptions,
     seeming co-evals with that Time which they measured, and to
     take their revelations of its flight immediately from
     heaven, holding correspondence with the fountain of light!
     How would the dark line steal imperceptibly on, watched by
     the eye of childhood, eager to detect its movement, never
     catched, nice as an evanescent cloud, or the first arrests
     of sleep!

          "Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand
          Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived!"

     What a dead thing is a clock, with its ponderous
     embowelments of lead and brass, its pert or solemn dullness
     of communication, compared with the simple altar-like
     structure and silent heart-language of the old dial! It
     stood as the garden god of Christian gardens. Why is it
     almost everywhere vanished?

In this essay, too, we have a happy sentence where, noting an error
into which his memory had betrayed him, Elia wrote of his own
narratives: "They are, in truth, but shadows of fact--verisimilitudes,
not verities--or sitting but upon the remote edges and outskirts of
history."

Dealing with "Grace Before Meat" Elia takes up an unconventional
position and defends it with spirit. It is something of an
impertinence to offer up thanks before an orgy of superfluous
luxuries, a "grace" is only fitting for a poor man sitting down before
the necessaries for which he may well feel thankful. Even such a theme
Lamb finds a fruitful occasion for pertinent literary illustration and
criticism, contrasting--from Milton's "Paradise Lost"--the feast
proffered by the Tempter to Christ in the wilderness with "the
temperate dreams of the divine Hungerer."

With "My First Play" Elia returned to one of those autobiographic
themes in which he is so often at his happiest. He represents the
emotions of the child of six or seven at the theatre and contrasts
them with those that follow when the child has reached his teens. "At
school all play-going was inhibited." He concludes, and, most readers
will agree, concludes with justice, that "we differ from ourselves
less at sixty and sixteen, than the latter does from six."

"Dream Children," again, has much in it of the story of the writer's
childhood, blent with sorrow over his brother's recent death and
interwoven with a fanciful imagining of what might have been. Elia
pictures himself talking to his two children of his own childhood's
days when visiting grandmother Field:

     When suddenly, turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice
     looked out at her eyes with such a reality of
     re-presentment, that I became in doubt which of them stood
     there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I
     stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter to my
     view, receding, and still receding till nothing at last but
     two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance,
     which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the
     effects of speech: "We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor
     are we children at all. The children of Alice call Bartrum
     father. We are nothing, less than nothing, and dreams. We
     are only what might have been, and must wait upon the
     tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have
     existence, and a name"--and immediately awaking, I found
     myself quietly seated in my bachelor arm-chair, where I had
     fallen asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my
     side--but John L. (or James Elia) was gone for ever.

This little essay, the most beautiful of the series, is as essentially
pathetic as anything in our literature, bringing tears to the eyes at
every reading though known almost by heart.

The essay on "Distant Correspondents," in the form of a playful
epistle to a friend, B. F. (_i.e._, Barron Field, also a contributor
to the "London Magazine") has much that is characteristic of the
writer. In it he plays--as he does in other letters to distant
friends--on the way in which "this confusion of tenses, this grand
solecism of two presents" renders writing difficult; in it he airs his
fondness for a pun and enlarges upon the fugacity of that form of fun,
its inherent incapacity for travel; and in it, too, he gives some
indication--we have several such indications in his letters--of his
fondness for hoaxing his friends with invented news about other
friends, or with questions on supposititious problems set forth as
actualities.

The next essay, "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers," might be cited as
one of those most fully representing the characteristics of Lamb's
work as essayist. It has its touches of personal reminiscences, it
deals with an out-of-the-way subject in a surprisingly engaging
manner, and it is full of those quaint turns of expression, those more
or less recondite words which Elia re-introduced from the older
writers, Jeremy Taylor, Sir Thomas Browne, etc., as he had
re-introduced the dramatic writings of the seventeenth century. Here
is a passage which may be said to be thoroughly representative at once
of Elia's manner of looking at things, as well as his own manner of
describing them. Elia is discussing "Saloop."

     I know not by what particular conformation of the organ it
     happens, but I have always found that this composition is
     surprisingly gratifying to the palate of a young
     chimney-sweeper--whether the oily particles (sassafras is
     slightly oleaginous) do attenuate and soften the fuliginous
     concretions, which are sometimes found (in dissections) to
     adhere to the roof of the mouth in these unfledged
     practitioners; or whether Nature, sensible that she had
     mingled too much of bitter wood in the lot of these raw
     victims, caused to grow out of the earth her sassafras for a
     sweet lenitive; but so it is, that no possible taste or
     odour to the senses of a young chimney-sweeper can convey a
     delicate excitement comparable to this mixture. Being
     penniless, they will yet hang their black heads over the
     ascending steam, to gratify one sense if possible, seemingly
     no less pleased than those domestic animals--cats--when they
     purr over a new-found sprig of valerian. There is something
     more in these sympathies than philosophy can inculcate.

In this essay also we have an example--one of how many!--of Lamb's
happiness in hitting upon an illustration, even though it be of the
ludicrous; mentioning the wonderful white of the sweep-boy's teeth he
adds, "It is, as when

                     'A sable cloud
    Turns forth her silver lining on the night.'"

"A Dissertation upon Roast Pig" is perhaps the most widely known of
all the essays of Elia. Its delightful drollery, its very revelling in
the daintiness of sucking-pig, its wonderfully rich literary
presentation, its deliberate acceptance of wild improbability as
historic basis, all unite to give it special place in the regard of
readers. The theme is of course familiar. It is that of a small
Chinese boy playing with fire who burnt down his father's flimsy hut
so that a whole litter of piglings was roasted in the conflagration.
The boy touched one of the incinerated little ones to feel if it were
alive; burnt his fingers and applied them to his mouth. His father
returned and did the same, and thus roast sucking-pig became a new
dish. Lamb plays with his subject with an inimitable mock earnestness.

     Our ancestors were nice in their method of sacrificing these
     tender victims. We read of pigs whipt to death with
     something of a shock, as we hear of any other obsolete
     custom. The age of discipline is gone by, or it would be
     curious to inquire (in a philosophical light merely) what
     effect this process might have towards intenerating and
     dulcifying a substance, naturally so mild and dulcet as the
     flesh of young pigs. It looks like refining a violet. Yet we
     should be cautious, while we condemn the inhumanity, how we
     censure the wisdom of the practice. It might impart a gusto.

The subject Charles Lamb professed to take from a Chinese manuscript
of his friend Manning's, and there have not been wanting critics who
have sought for literary germs from which this essay might have
sprung. Such will find in the seventeenth-century "Letters writ by a
Turkish Spy" the origin of roasted meat referred to the days of
sacrifice when one of the priests touching a burning beast hurt his
fingers and applied them to his mouth--with precisely the same sequel
which followed on Bo-bo's escapade.

"A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People" is a
delicate--perhaps partly ironical--description of a bachelor's
objections to his married friends flaunting their happiness in his
face. In the last three of the essays we have Lamb as critic of the
stage--partly, as in the Dramatic Specimens, of its literature, "On
the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century;" and partly on its actors,
"On some of the Old Actors" and "On the Acting of Munden." Here again
we have proofs of his instinctive critical power, his finely perfected
method of expressing his appreciation of men and books.

The "Last Essays of Elia," published the year before Lamb's death,
open with a "Character of the late Elia"--an admirable piece of
self-portraiture in which Lamb hit off with great felicity some of his
own characteristics, physical and intellectual. In the first of the
essays, "Blakesmoor in H----shire," the author let his memory and
fancy play about the old house, lately razed, in which his grandmother
Field had held sway as housekeeper, in which as child he had passed
many happy holidays. Its tapestries, its haunted room, its "tattered
and diminished 'Scutcheon," its Justice Hall, its "costly fruit
garden, with its sun-baked southern wall," its "noble Marble Hall,
with its Mosaic pavements, and its Twelve Cæsars--stately busts in
marble--ranged round," each of these recalled by memory suggests some
deep thought or some pleasant turn. The opening passage at once sets
the note of the whole, and may be taken as a representation of Lamb's
contemplative mood:

     I do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range at
     will over the deserted apartments of some fine old family
     mansion. The traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better
     passion than envy; and contemplations on the great and good,
     whom we fancy in succession to have been its inhabitants,
     weave for us illusions, incompatible with the bustle of
     modern occupancy, and vanities of foolish present
     aristocracy. The same difference of feeling, I think,
     attends us between entering an empty and a crowded church.
     In the latter it is chance but some present human
     frailty--an act of inattention on the part of some of the
     auditory--or a trait of affectation, or worse, vain-glory on
     that of the preacher--puts us by our best thoughts,
     disharmonizing the place and the occasion. But wouldst thou
     know the beauty of holiness? go alone on some week-day,
     borrowing the keys of good Master Sexton, traverse the cool
     aisles of some country church: think of the piety that has
     kneeled there--the congregations, old and young, that have
     found consolation there--the meek pastor, the docile
     parishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross
     conflicting comparisons, drink in the tranquillity of the
     place, till thou thyself become as fixed and motionless as
     the marble effigies that kneel and weep around thee.

"Poor Relations" is a beautiful example of humour--provoking to smiles
while touching to tears--with a wonderful introductory piling up of
definitions: "A Poor Relation--is the most irrelevant thing in
nature,--a piece of impertinent correspondency,--a preposterous
shadow, lengthening in the noontide of your prosperity,--an unwelcome
remembrancer," and so on. "This theme of poor relations is replete
with so much matter for tragic as well as comic associations that it
is difficult to keep the account distinct without blending." The essay
includes three or four admirable examples of Elia's felicity in
drawing typical characters with just that touch of oddity that makes
them live as individuals. The theatre which we have seen always made
its triple appeal to Lamb--from the study, from the front, and from
the boards--inspired the next three essays, "Stage Illusions," "To the
Shade of Elliston," and "Ellistoniana." The first is an example of
subtle criticism showing how it is that we get enjoyment out of
unlovely attributes on the stage, thanks to the "exquisite art of the
actor in a perpetual sub-insinuation to us," that things are not
altogether what they seem to be. In the two essays on Elliston we have
at once an eloquent tribute to a stage-magnate of his day and a fine
character portrait.

"Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading," might be cited as one of the
most characteristic of the essays of Elia. It illustrates the writer's
happiest style, and indicates his taste. In its opening passages are
words and phrases which have become quotations "familiar in the mouth
as household words" to all book-lovers. Lamb takes as his text a
remark made by Lord Foppington in Vanbrugh's "Relapse": "To mind the
inside of a book is to entertain one's self with the forced products
of another man's brain. Now I think a man of quality and breeding may
be much amused with the natural sprouts of his own."

     An ingenious acquaintance was so much struck with this
     bright sally of his Lordship, that he has left off reading
     altogether, to the great improvement of his originality. At
     the hazard of losing some credit on this head, I must
     confess that I dedicate no inconsiderable portion of my time
     to other people's thoughts. I dream away my life in others'
     speculations. I love to lose myself in other men's minds.
     When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think.
     Books think for me.

     I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not too genteel for
     me, nor Jonathan Wild too low. I can read anything which I
     call a _book_. There are things in that shape which I cannot
     allow for such.

     In this catalogue of _books which are no books_--_biblia
     a-biblia_--I reckon Court Calendars, Directories, Pocket
     Books, Draught Boards, bound and lettered on the back,
     Scientific Treatises, Almanacks, Statutes at Large; the
     works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Beattie, Soame Jenyns,
     and, generally, all those volumes which "no gentleman's
     library should be without"; the Histories of Flavius
     Josephus (that learned Jew), and Paley's "Moral Philosophy."
     With these exceptions, I can read almost anything. I bless
     my stars for a taste so catholic, so unexcluding.

     I confess that it moves my spleen to see these _things in
     books' clothing_ perched upon shelves, like false saints,
     usurpers of true shrines, intruders into the sanctuary,
     thrusting out the legitimate occupants. To reach down a
     well-bound semblance of a volume, and hope it some
     kind-hearted playbook; then, opening what "seem its
     leaves," to come bolt upon a withering Population Essay. To
     expect a Steele, or a Farquhar, and find--Adam Smith; to
     view a well-arranged assortment of block-headed
     Encyclopædias (Anglicanas or Metropolitanas) set out in an
     array of Russia, or Morocco, when a tithe of that good
     leather would comfortably re-clothe my shivering folios;
     would renovate Paracelsus himself, and enable old Raymund
     Lully to look himself again in the world. I never see these
     impostors, but I long to strip them to warm my ragged
     veterans in their spoils.

He passes on to a consideration of the fitting habiliments of books;
the sizes which appealed to him; the where and when to read: "I should
not care to be caught in the serious avenues of some cathedral alone
and reading 'Candide'!"--"The Old Margate Hoy" gives reminiscences of
a visit to the popular resort--with some uncomplimentary asides at
Hastings--in the days of the boy, "ill-exchanged for the foppery and
freshwater niceness of the modern steampacket," the boy that asked "no
aid of magic fumes, and spells, and boiling cauldrons." "The
Convalescent" expatiates upon the allowable egoism of the occupant of
a sick bed, upon his "regal solitude," and goes on to show "how
convalescence shrinks a man back to his primitive state." The essay
was inspired by that ill-health which led to Lamb's retirement from
the India House in 1825. At the close he indulged his pen in his
conversational fondness for a pun:

     In this flat swamp of convalescence, left by the ebb of
     sickness, yet far enough removed from the terra firma of
     established health, your note, dear Editor, reached me,
     requesting--an article. _In articulo mortis_, thought I; but
     it is something hard--and the quibble, wretched as it was,
     relieved me.

In the "Sanity of True Genius" Elia set out to controvert the idea
expressed by Dryden in his best remembered line--

    "Great wits to madness nearly are allied,"

and does so in a most convincing manner if, with him, we understand by
the greatness of wit poetic talent. As he says: "It is impossible for
the mind to conceive of a mad Shakespeare."

     The ground of the mistake is, that men, finding in the
     raptures of the higher poetry a condition of exaltation, to
     which they have no parallel in their own experience, besides
     the spurious resemblance of it in dreams and fevers, impute
     a state of dreaminess and fever to the poet. But the true
     poet dreams being awake. He is not possessed by his subject
     but has dominion over it. In the groves of Eden he walks
     familiar as in his native paths. He ascends the empyrean
     heaven, and is not intoxicated. He treads the burning marl
     without dismay; he wins his flight without self-loss through
     realms of chaos "and old night." Or if, abandoning himself
     to that severer chaos of a "human mind untuned," he is
     content awhile to be mad with Lear, or to hate mankind (a
     sort of madness) with Timon; neither is that madness, nor
     this misanthropy, so unchecked, but that--never letting the
     reins of reason wholly go, while most he seems to do so--he
     has his better genius whispering at his ear, with the good
     servant Kent suggesting saner counsels; or with the honest
     steward Flavius recommending kindlier resolutions. Where he
     seems most to recede from humanity, he will be found the
     truest to it.

"Captain Jackson" is an unforgettable picture of a poor man who would
_not_ be poor; his manners made a plated spoon appear as silver
sugar-tongs, a homely bench a sofa, and so on. As Elia concludes:

     There is some merit in putting a handsome face upon indigent
     circumstances. To bully and swagger away the sense of them
     before strangers, may not always be discommendable. Tibbs
     and Bobadil, even when detected, have more of our admiration
     than contempt. But for a man to put the cheat upon himself;
     to play the Bobadil at home; and, steeped in poverty up to
     the lips, to fancy himself all the while chin-deep in
     riches, is a strain of constitutional philosophy, and a
     mastery over fortune, which was reserved for my old friend
     Captain Jackson.

With the next essay of this collection, that on "The Superannuated
Man," we come to one of the most notable of the series of Elia's
transmutations of matters of private experience into precious
literature. The paper is as autobiographic as any of his letters: some
slight changes--as of the East India House to the name of a city
firm--are made, but for the rest it is a record of his retirement with
a revelation of the feelings attendant upon the change from having to
go daily to an office for thirty-six years to being suddenly free:

     For the first day or two I felt stunned, overwhelmed. I
     could only apprehend my felicity; I was too confused to
     taste it sincerely. I wandered about, thinking I was happy
     and knowing that I was not. I was in the condition of a
     prisoner in the old Bastile, suddenly let loose after a
     forty years' confinement. I could scarce trust myself with
     myself. It was like passing out of Time into Eternity--for
     it is a sort of Eternity for a man to have all his Time to
     himself. It seemed to me that I had more time on my hands
     than I could ever manage. From a poor man, poor in Time, I
     was suddenly lifted up into a vast revenue; I could see no
     end of my possessions; I wanted some steward, or judicious
     bailiff, to manage my estates in Time for me. And here let
     me caution persons grown old in active business, not
     lightly, nor without weighing their own resources, to forego
     their customary employment all at once, for there may be
     danger in it. I feel it by myself, but I know that my
     resources are sufficient; and now that those first giddy
     raptures have subsided, I have a quiet home-feeling of the
     blessedness of my condition. I am in no hurry. Having all
     holidays, I am as though I had none. If Time hung heavy upon
     me I could walk it away; but I do not walk all day long, as
     I used to do in those old transient holidays, thirty miles a
     day, to make the most of them. If Time were troublesome, I
     could read it away, but I do not read in that violent
     measure, with which, having no Time my own but candlelight
     Time, I used to weary out my head and eyesight in bygone
     winters. I walk, read, or scribble (as now) just when the
     fit seizes me. I no longer hunt after pleasure; I let it
     come to me. I am like the man

    "---- that's born, and has his years come to him,
    In some green desert."

"The Genteel Style in Writing" is a delightful enforcement of the
"ordinary criticism" that "my Lord Shaftesbury, and Sir William
Temple, are models of the genteel style in writing," though Elia
prefers to differentiate them as "the lordly and the gentlemanly." The
essay is, for the most part, a plea, with illustrations, for a
consideration of Sir William Temple as an easy and engaging writer.
"Barbara S----" is a slight anecdote expanded into a sympathetic
little story of a child-actress who, instead of her half-guinea
salary, being once handed a guinea in error, virtuously took it back
and received the moiety.

"The Tombs in the Abbey" is an indignant protest--in the form of a
letter to Southey--against the closing of Westminster Abbey and St.
Paul's Cathedral, except during service times, to all but those who
could afford to pay for admission; it closes with a touch of humour
where Elia suggests that the Abbey had been closed because the statue
of Major André had been disfigured, and adds: "The mischief was done
about the time that you were a scholar there. Do you know anything
about the unfortunate relic?" Then, in "Amicus Redivivus," we have an
accident to a friend, George Dyer, who had walked absent-mindedly into
the New River opposite Lamb's very door, made to supply matter for
treatment in Elia's pleasantest vein.

"Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney" gives a dozen of Sidney's sonnets
with appreciatory comment. "Newspapers Thirty Years Ago" is
particularly interesting for its reminiscences of the days when Lamb
wrote half a dozen daily jests for "The Morning Post" at sixpence per
jest, and for its sketches of Daniel Stuart and Fenwick, two diversely
typical journalists of a century since. "Barrenness of the Imaginative
Faculty in the Productions of Modern Art" is a criticism of the
prevailing taste in art matters, inspired by Martin's "Belshazzar's
Feast," and contrasts the modern methods of painting as--a Dryad, "a
beautiful naked figure recumbent under wide-stretched oaks" (a figure
that with a different background would do just as well as a Naiad),
with the older method illustrated by Julio Romano's dryad, in which
was "an approximation of two natures." "Rejoicings Upon the New Year's
Coming of Age" is a graceful, sparkling piece of humorous fancy:

     I should have told you, that cards of invitation had been
     issued. The carriers were the _Hours_; twelve little, merry
     whirligig foot-pages, as you should desire to see, that went
     all round, and found out the persons invited well enough,
     with the exception of _Easter Day_, _Shrove Tuesday_, and a
     few such _Moveables_, who had lately shifted their quarters.

     Well, they all met at last, foul _Days_, fine _Days_, all
     sorts of _Days_, and a rare din they made of it. There was
     nothing but, Hail! fellow _Day_,--well met--brother
     _Day_--sister _Day_,--only _Lady Day_ kept a little on the
     aloof, and seemed somewhat scornful. Yet some said _Twelfth
     Day_ cut her out and out, for she came in a tiffany suit,
     all white and gold, like a queen on a frost-cake--all royal,
     glittering, and _Epiphanous_. The rest came--some in green,
     some in white--but old _Lent and his family_ were not yet
     out of mourning. Rainy _Days_ came in, dripping; and
     sun-shiny _Days_ helped them to change their stockings.
     _Wedding Day_ was there in his marriage finery, a little the
     worse for wear. _Pay Day_ came late, as he always does; and
     _Doomsday_ sent word--he might be expected.

"The Wedding" describes such a ceremony at which Elia had assisted,
and illustrates at once his sympathy with the young people and with
their parents--"is there not something untender, to say no more of it,
in the hurry which a beloved child is in to tear herself from the
paternal stock and commit herself to strange graftings." "The Child
Angel" is a beautiful poetic apologue in the form of a dream.

In "Old China," one of the most attractive of this varied series, Elia
is ready with reminiscences of the days when the purchase of the
books, pictures, or old china that they loved, meant a real sacrifice,
and the things purchased were therefore the more deeply prized.

     Do you remember the brown suit, which you made to hang upon
     you, till all your friends cried shame upon you, it grew so
     threadbare--and all because of that folio Beaumont and
     Fletcher, which you dragged home late at night from Barker's
     in Covent Garden? Do you remember how we eyed it for weeks
     before we could make up our minds to the purchase, and had
     not come to a determination till it was near ten o'clock of
     the Saturday night, when you set off from Islington, fearing
     you should be too late--and when the old bookseller, with
     some grumbling, opened his shop, and by the twinkling taper
     (for he was setting bedwards) lighted out the relic from
     his dusty treasures--and when you lugged it home wishing it
     were twice as cumbersome--and when you presented it to me;
     and when we were exploring the perfectness of it
     (_collating_ you called it)--and while I was repairing some
     of the loose leaves with paste, which your impatience would
     not suffer to be left till daybreak--was there no pleasure
     in being a poor man? or can those neat black clothes you
     wear now, and are so careful to keep brushed, since we have
     become rich and finical, give you half the honest vanity,
     with which you flaunted it about in that overworn suit--your
     old corbeau--for four or five weeks longer than you should
     have done, to pacify your conscience for the mighty sum of
     fifteen--or sixteen shillings, was it?--a great affair we
     thought it then--which you had lavished on the old folio.
     Now you can afford to buy any book that pleases you, but I
     do not see that you ever bring me home any nice old
     purchases now.

     When you came home with twenty apologies for laying out a
     less number of shillings upon that print after Lionardo,
     which we christened the "Lady Blanch"; when you looked at
     the purchase, and thought of the money,--and thought of the
     money, and looked again at the picture--was there no
     pleasure in being a poor man? Now, you have nothing to do
     but walk into Colnaghi's, and buy a wilderness of Lionardos.
     Yet do you?

"Confessions of a Drunkard" and "Popular Fallacies" complete the tale
of the "Essays of Elia" that were collected into volume form as such.
The first-named essay had been issued originally in 1813. It is an
attempt to set forth from a drunkard's point of view the evils of
drunkenness, and was first published in a periodical with a purpose
over twenty years before its inclusion in the second edition of the
"Last Essays of Elia." To accentuate the fact that it was purely a
literary performance--an attempt to project himself into the mind of a
drunkard willing to allow others to profit by his example--Lamb
reprinted it in the "London Magazine" as one of his ordinary
contributions. There have not been wanting matter-of-fact people (with
whom our Elia has recorded his imperfect sympathy) who have accepted
this essay as pure biography; because details tally with the author's
life they think the whole must do so. We have but to follow the story
of Lamb's life with understanding to realize how wrong is this
impression. The closing dozen of essays in brief, grouped under the
title of "Popular Fallacies," discuss certain familiar axioms and show
them--in the light of fun and fancy--to be wholly fallacious.

Such is the variety of those two volumes which by common consent--by
popular appreciation and by critical judgement--have their place as
Lamb's most characteristic work. Throughout both series we find
delicate unconventionality, the same choice of subjects from among the
simplest suggestions of everyday life, lifted by his method of
treatment, his manner of looking at and treating things, out of the
sphere of every day into that of all days. However simple may be the
subject chosen it is always made peculiarly his own.




HIS STYLE


The style is the man. The rule was thus confined within the compass of
a brief sentence by a distinguished French naturalist, and if there be
examples which form exceptions to that rule, Charles Lamb is certainly
not one of them. Markedly individual himself he reveals that
individuality in his writings so strongly that there are not wanting
critics who consider themselves able to decide from the turn of a
phrase or the use of a word whether Lamb did or did not write any
particular piece of work which it may have been sought to father on
him. In the manner of presentation of his writings we have at once the
revelation of catholic literary taste and wide reading combined with
the deep seriousness and the almost irresponsible whimsicality of the
man himself. The man who was loved by all who knew him in the
flesh--so true is it that _le style c'est l'homme_--reveals himself as
a man to be loved by those who can only know him through the medium of
the written word. Where he has given rein to his fancy or his
imagination, he is humorous, whimsical, inventive; where he is dealing
with matters of serious fact or criticism he is simple, clear, and to
the point. Quotations already given would go to illustrate this, but
two further contrasting passages may be added. The first is from
"Table Talk," the second from a critical essay on the acting of
Shakespeare's tragedies.

     It is a desideratum in works that treat _de re culinaria_,
     that we have no rationale of sauces, or theory of mixed
     flavours; as to show why cabbage is reprehensible with roast
     beef, laudable with bacon; why the haunch of mutton seeks
     the alliance of currant jelly, the shoulder civilly
     declineth it; why a loin of veal (a pretty problem), being
     itself unctuous, seeketh the adventitious lubricity of
     melted butter; and why the same part in pork, not more
     oleaginous, abhorreth it; why the French bean sympathizes
     with the flesh of deer; why salt fish points to parsnip,
     brawn makes a dead set at mustard; why cats prefer valerian
     to heartsease, old ladies _vice versa_--though this is
     rather travelling out of the road of the dietetics, and may
     be thought a question more curious than relevant; why salmon
     (a strong sapor _per se_) fortifieth its condition with the
     mighty lobster sauce, whose embraces are fatal to the
     delicater relish of the turbot; why oysters in death rise up
     against the contamination of brown sugar, while they are
     posthumously amorous of vinegar; why the sour mango and the
     sweet jam, by turns, court and are accepted by the
     compilable mutton hash--she not yet decidedly declaring for
     either. We are as yet but in the empirical stage of cookery.

       *       *       *       *       *

     So to see Lear acted--to see an old man tottering about the
     stage with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his
     daughters on a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is
     painful and disgusting. We want to take him into shelter and
     relieve him. That is all the feeling which the acting of
     Lear ever produced on me. But the Lear of Shakespeare
     cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery by which they
     mimic the storm which he goes out in, is not more inadequate
     to represent the horrors of the real elements, than any
     actor can be to represent Lear: they might more easily
     propose to personate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or
     one of Michael Angelo's terrible figures. The greatness of
     Lear is not in corporal dimension but in intellectual: the
     explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano; they
     are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea,
     his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is
     laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too
     insignificant to be thought on; even as he himself neglects
     it. On the stage we see nothing but corporal infirmities and
     weakness, the impotence of rage: while we read it, we see
     not Lear, but we are Lear--we are in his mind, we are
     sustained by a grandeur which baffles the malice of
     daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we
     discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized
     from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers,
     as the wind bloweth where it listeth, at will upon the
     corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones
     to do with that sublime identification of his age with that
     of the heavens themselves, when in his reproaches to them
     for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds
     them that "they themselves are old"? What gesture shall we
     appropriate to this? What has the voice or the eye to do
     with such things?

                  From the olden time
    Of Authorship thy Patent should be dated,
    And thou with Marvell, Browne, and Burton mated.

Thus did Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet, close a sonnet which he
addressed to Elia, and there is keen criticism in the few words. With
the three writers mentioned Lamb was in rarest sympathy; many are the
references to them in his books and in his letters. With Andrew
Marvell he shows his kinship in his verse, with the authors of "The
Religio Medici" and of "The Anatomy of Melancholy," in diverse ways in
his prose. Now fanciful and euphemistic with these, he is, as soon as
occasion calls for plainer statement, clear and simple in expression.
As one critic has put it, he was so steeped in the literature of the
past that it became natural for him to deal with a theme more or less
in the manner in which that theme would have been dealt with by that
writer in the past most likely to have made it his own. This is
perhaps slightly exaggerated, but it has something of truth in it.
"For with all his marked individuality of manner there are perhaps few
English writers who have written so differently on different themes."
Placing special emphasis on his favourites--which besides the three
named included Jeremy Taylor, Chapman, and Wither, to say nothing of
the whole body of the dramatists of our literary renaissance--it may
be said that his wide reading, his loving study, among the authors of
our richest literary periods went far towards forming his style,
though it must be remembered--it cannot be forgotten with a volume of
his essays or letters in hand--that there is always that marked but
indescribable "individuality of manner" which pervades the varied
whole.

Hazlitt, touching upon the characteristics of Charles Lamb, in the
essay in which he--not very felicitously--brackets Elia and Geoffrey
Crayon in the "Spirit of the Age," says:

     He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes, shines in no
     glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology; is neither
     fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence or froth of
     new-fangled opinions. His style runs pure and clear, though
     it may often take an underground course, or be conveyed
     through old-fashioned conduit pipes. Mr. Lamb does not court
     popularity, nor strut in gaudy plumes, but shrinks from
     every kind of ostentatious and obvious pretension into the
     retirement of his own mind.

That mind was, as has been said, stored with a wealth from among the
best of English literature, and when Lamb expressed himself it was
always in pure literary fashion. He was a bookman writing for those
who love things of the mind which can only be passed from generation
to generation by means of books. In this we may recognize the
reason--wholly unconscious to the writer--for the allusiveness of his
style: it is often that subtle allusiveness which takes for granted as
much knowledge in the reader as in the writer of the thing or passage
to which allusion is made. In the sixteenth century such allusiveness
was generally fruit of an extensive knowledge of the ancient classics;
but though the references differ, the manner is much the same in
Charles Lamb as in Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne.

Less confident critics than those mentioned at the beginning of this
section may yet readily recognize the general individuality of the
style in which Elia revealed himself through the medium of his pen. To
his lifelong habit of browsing among old books, his especial fondness
for the writers of the sixteenth century, he owed no small part of the
richness of his vocabulary, which enabled him frequently to use with
fine effect happy old words in place of current makeshifts. In one of
his early letters to Coleridge where he mentions having just finished
reading Chapman's Homer, Lamb, seizing upon a phrase in that
translation, says with gusto, "what _endless egression of phrases_ the
dog commands." The word arrided him (to employ another, the use of
which he recovered for us), and he could not forbear making a note of
it. He had, indeed, something of an instinctive genius for finding
words that had passed more or less into desuetude, and a happy way of
re-introducing them to enrich the plainer prose of his day. He did it
naturally, even as though inevitably, and without any such air of
coxcombical affectation as would have destroyed the flavour of the
whole. Lamb was so thoroughly imbued with the thought and modes of
expression of the rich Elizabethan and Stuart periods that his use of
obsolescent words was probably more often than not quite unconscious.

The egotism of Elia's style in addressing his readers has been said to
be founded on that of Sir Thomas Browne, and in a measure there can be
little doubt that it was so--but only in a measure, for it is
something the same egotism as that of Montaigne, is, indeed, the
natural attitude of the familiar essayist who must be egotistic, not
from self-consciousness but from the lack of it. In putting his
opinions and experiences in the first person, we feel that Lamb did so
almost unconsciously, because it was for him the easiest way of
expressing himself. It was not, in fact, egotism at all in the
commonly accepted sense of meaning, too frequent or self-laudatory use
of the personal pronoun.




CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF WORKS


Those books with an asterisk against their date were only in part the
work of Charles Lamb.

*1796.  Poems on Various Subjects, by S. T. Coleridge (included four
sonnets signed C. L., described in the preface as by "Mr. Charles Lamb
of the India House").

*1796.  Poems on the Death of Priscilla Farmer, by her grandson,
            Charles Lloyd (included "The Grandame," by Lamb).

*1797.  Poems by S. T. Coleridge, second edition, to which are now
            added Poems by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd.

*1798.  Blank Verse by Charles Lloyd and Charles Lamb.

1798.   A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret (afterwards
            simply entitled "Rosamund Gray").

1802.   John Woodvil, a Tragedy; with Fragments of Burton.

1805.   The King and Queen of Hearts: Showing how notably the Queen made
           her Tarts and how scurvily the Knave stole them away with other
           particulars belonging thereunto.

*1807.  Tales from Shakespear, designed for the use of young Persons. 2
            vols. (By Charles and Mary Lamb, though only the name of the
            former appeared on the original title-page.)

*1807 or 1808. Mrs. Leicester's School, or the History of several
                   young Ladies related by themselves (by Charles and
                   Mary Lamb).

1808.   The Adventures of Ulysses.

1808.   Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the Time of
            Shakespeare.

*1809.  Poetry for Children. Entirely original. By the author of "Mrs.
            Leicester's School."

1811.   Prince Dorus; or Flattery put out of Countenance. A Poetical
            Version of an Ancient Tale.

[1811.  Beauty and the Beast; or a Rough Outside with Gentle Heart. A
            Poetical Version of an Ancient Tale; credited to Lamb by some
            authorities but on inconclusive evidence.]

1818.   The Works of Charles Lamb. In 2 vols.

1823.   Elia. Essays which have appeared under that title in the "London
            Magazine" (now known as "Essays of Elia"):

The South-Sea House.
Oxford in the Vacation.
Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years ago.
The Two Races of Men.
New Year's Eve.
Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist.
A Chapter on Ears.
All Fools' Day.
A Quakers' Meeting.
The Old and the New Schoolmaster.
Valentine's Day.
Imperfect Sympathies.
Witches and other Night Fears.
My Relations.
Mackery End in Hertfordshire.
Modern Gallantry.
The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.
Grace before Meat.
My First Play.
Dream-Children: a Reverie.
Distant Correspondents.
The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers.
A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis.
A Dissertation upon Roast Pig.
A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People.
On some of the Old Actors.
On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century.
On the Acting of Munden.

1830. Album Verses, with a few others.

1831. Satan in Search of a Wife.

1833. The Last Essays of Elia.

Preface.
Blakesmoor in H----shire.
Poor Relations.
Stage Illusion.
To the Shade of Elliston.
Ellistoniana.
Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading.
The Old Margate Hoy.
The Convalescent.
Sanity of True Genius.
Captain Jackson.
The Superannuated Man.
The Genteel Style in Writing.
Barbara S----.
The Tombs in the Abbey.
Amicus Redivivus.
Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney.
Newspapers Thirty-five Years Ago.
Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Productions of Modern Art.
Rejoicings upon the New Year's Coming of Age.
The Wedding.
The Child Angel.
Old China.
Confessions of a Drunkard.
Popular Fallacies.




II. POSTHUMOUS WORKS AND COLLECTED EDITIONS


1837.   Poetical Works of Charles Lamb.

1837.   Letters of Charles Lamb, with a Sketch of his Life, by Thomas
            Noon Talfourd. 2 vols.

1848.   The Final Memorials of Charles Lamb. By T. N. Talfourd.

1865.   Eliana. Collected by J. E. Babson.

1875.   Works. Centenary edition, with Memoir by Charles Kent.

1876.   Life, Letters and Writings of Lamb. Edited by Percy Fitzgerald.

1883-8. Lamb's Works and Correspondence. Edited by Alfred Ainger. 12 vols.

1886.   Letters of Charles Lamb (being Talfourd's two works in one with
            additions). Edited by W. Carew Hazlitt. Bohn's Standard
            Library.

1893.   Bon Mots of Charles Lamb, etc. Edited by Walter Jerrold.

1903-4. The Works of Charles Lamb. Edited by William Macdonald. 12 vols.

1903-5. The Works of Charles Lamb. Edited by E. V. Lucas. 7 vols.

1904.   Letters of Charles Lamb. Edited by Alfred Ainger. New edition. 2
            vols. Eversley Series.




III. BIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM


See entries under 1837 and 1848, etc., in preceding section.

1866.   Charles Lamb: a Memoir. By Barry Cornwall.

1866.   Lamb, his Friends, Haunts, Books. By Percy Fitzgerald.

1882.   Charles Lamb. By Alfred Ainger in the English Men of Letters
            Series (revised and enlarged edition, 1888).

1891.   In the Footprints of Lamb. By B. E. Martin.

1897.   The Lambs: New Particulars. By W. C. Hazlitt.

1898.   Charles Lamb and the Lloyds. Edited by E. V. Lucas.

1900.   Lamb and Hazlitt: Further Letters and Records, hitherto
            Unpublished. Edited by W. C. Hazlitt.

1903.   Sidelights on Charles Lamb. By Bertram Dobell.

1905.   Life of Charles Lamb. By E. V. Lucas. 2 vols.

The above list does not include separate editions of the "Essays" and
other works; most of Lamb's writings are obtainable to-day in cheap
and convenient forms.






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